Hillel Lay Leaders Visit Jewish Communities in Argentina, Uruguay
March 22, 2005Comments (0)
| E-mail this to a friend Though their college years are behind them, a group of Hillel lay leaders had their own spring break recently as they traveled to Argentina and Uruguay on the 2005 Hillel Lay Leadership Mission to South America. And while they enjoyed the sunshine, it was the "rejuvenating" encounters with the students, professionals and supporters of the Hillels in Buenos Aires and Montevideo that provided the most warmth.
The hospitality of their Argentinean and Uruguayan Jewish communities shone throughout the weeklong mission, as participants visited historical Jewish sites, met with leaders from local Jewish agencies and enjoyed meals with Hillel activists and lay leaders. The trip began in Buenos Aires, home of the biggest Jewish community in South America, where the group attended Shabbat services at Bet El Congregation, a conservative synagogue and seminary. They joined the local community and visiting students from Georgetown and American universities to celebrate the opening of the second Hillel facility in Argentina.
"It was wonderful to see the talented, bright youth who are eager to build their Jewish future," said Fred Margulies, a member of the Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life Board of Directors.
Lynne B Harrison, a member of Hillel's International Board of Governors and Board of Directors, has been a strong supporter of Hillel in Argentina by establishing an internship program for students to work with Jewish social-service agencies in Buenos Aires and sponsoring Shabbat dinners for students throughout the greater Buenos Aires area. She has seen firsthand the effects Hillel has had not only on the local Jewish community, but also for American students who travel there on alternative-break programs.
"In the sciences, we have a phenomenon called 'unforeseeable, unexpected, secondary effects,' and that is what we have found here. As important as the Hillel in Buenos Aires is to the Argentineans, it is also important for American Hillel students," Harrison said. "American students come to realize that we are all part of a worldwide community of Jews. It's a win-win phenomenon."
The mission participants also spent a considerable amount of time with students from Duke and New York universities who were on an alternative break in Uruguay. The students painted murals at a Jewish home for the aged in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo and built a community center in the poor neighborhood of El Cerro with their Uruguayan peers. The lay leaders were impressed with their commitment to repairing the world.
"It was very moving to see Jewish youth from the finest universities schlepping wood and wiring," Margulies said.
The group also attended a party at Hillel Uruguay to mark the beginning of the academic year and had dinner with former Uruguyan President Luis Alberto Lacalle, who expressed his deep appreciation for American support for Hillel.
"It was moving to him that we come not as tourists, but as visitors who helped the poor instead of sitting on the beach," Margulies said.
Uruguay has also been a source of support for participant Michael Kesler, whose two aunts moved there from Poland in the 1930s to escape persecution. He had heard little about his relatives until meeting members of the Jewish community in Punta del Este who knew his family and could tell them about his cousins' subsequent aliyah to Israel.
"I'm very grateful that Uruguay let Jews in," said Kesler, who credits Hillel for his own journey from Poland when he came to the United States through Hillel's Refugee Student Program after World War II.
Mission participants commended the hard work of South American Hillel leaders, such as Hillel Argentina President Eduardo Elsztain, Hillel Argentina Executive Director Gabriel Trajtenberg, Hillel Uruguay President Marcelo Cynovich and Hillel Uruguay Acting Director Deborah Durlacher, who have strengthened their countries' Jewish futures through Hillel, in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel.
"They have great partnerships. People band together when they believe in something, and they know nothing will happen unless they all give 100 percent,"said Board of Directors member Sharon Ungerleider.
Hillel is also sponsoring a lay-leadership mission to Kiev and Odessa, Ukraine in May. Contact Jay Rubin or Avi Rubel for more information.