By Cecily Barnes, Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose
Hillel of Silicon Valley has launched its first, official exchange program whereby Jewish students from Argentina will come to the South Bay, and Silicon Valley students will travel to Buenos Aires.
Hillel of Silicon Valley will also collaborate with other local Jewish organizations on ways to assist Hillel Argentina.
In the first of many exchange events, 20 computer science, engineering, and business students from Hillel Argentina will come to Silicon Valley Jan. 12 through Jan. 20. Later in the year, twenty students from Hillel of Silicon Valley will fly to Buenos Aires to participate in social action projects to help their community.
"We are connecting with our local Latin Jewish community, and helping them come together as a more unified group. Through partnerships like this, students can learn first hand about the situation in Latin America," said Arlene Miller, executive director of Hillel of Silicon Valley. "Down the line, when these students do and can get visas to come to the U.S. to work, they are going to have a network they can count on."
Miller chose Hillel Argentina as the first exchange program because of the tremendous difficulties faced by this Jewish community. She also has a personal connection as her parents were immigrants from Argentina. In the last year, the economic situation in Argentina has drastically deteriorated.
Fifty percent of the population is living below the poverty line. No money is available in the banks. Savings accounts are frozen. More than 70 percent of Jewish-owned small businesses have closed.
The Jewish community has also suffered terribly from terrorist bombings, including the 1994 bombing of the central Jewish community building and previously of the Israel embassy, and the ensuing insecurity and upheaval.
Aliyah applications have risen to over 6,000, and the once prosperous Jewish community is becoming demoralized.
Miller hopes the exchange program, and the support from Hillel of Silicon Valley, will help raise morale, and offer support to the upcoming leaders of Argentinean Jewry.
"If you know that there's somebody out there looking over you, it offers a sense of hope that there is a way out of this situation," said Miller.
More than just moral support, Hillel has organized a steering committee with over 32 lay leaders in the Jewish community to offer concrete assistance.
The committee is seeking families to host students; it's identifying technology companies willing to meet with students; and it's arranging meetings with both Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose and Jewish Community Federation to facilitate solicitations.
The steering committee is also planning an all-out American BBQ on January 18, where all participants in the project will be invited to celebrate the beginning of a long-term relationship with Hillel Argentina.
Recently students from Silicon Valley and Argentina met at a leadership conference. These types of networking experiences not only help Argentinean students, but local Jewish students too.
Jeremy Bakin, De Anza student and Koret Intern, said, "Prior to the conference, I wasn't aware of the economic situation or even of the existence of Hillel in Argentina. This project is going to create an incredible opportunity for Hillel of Silicon Valley students to experience first hand what the Argentinean community is going through and will allow us to contribute and assist in anyway possible."
The connection with Hillel of Argentina began when Executive Director of Hillel of Silicon Valley, Arlene Miller, participated in the UJC Mission to Argentina. While overseas, Miller met the incoming Hillel director Gaby Trajtenberg. She heard about the challenges faced by the local Jewish students.
"Jewish students are stuck in the middle of the economic crisis in Argentina," explained Trajtenberg. "Hillel will allow students to strengthen their Jewish identity, provide an international network they can count on, and develop professionally. Hillel brings hope, not just assistance."
While Hillel of Silicon Valley primarily focuses on developing and sustaining Jewish community, Hillel Argentina, officially launched in June 2002, is focusing on community service and career development initiatives to play an especially important role as a result of the current economic crisis.
According to Arlene Miller, this project was conceived Argentinian-style in a caf close to where the new Hillel building would be located, "Gaby and I discussed ways that our Hillels could collaborate with each other and the concept of partnering and creating a cultural exchange was an exciting way to bridge our communities and focus on the hope that the young generation in Argentina needs in order to get through the difficult years ahead."
Opportunities for underwriting different aspects of the project and sponsorships at $1,000 a student are available.
If you are interested in learning more about the project and how you can be part of it, please contact Arlene Miller, executive director, Hillel of Silicon Valley, (408) 286-6669, x10 or email@example.com.