Rebecca Hirschfeld

Volunteering for 8 weeks in Buenos Aires, AR at the Baby Help center. To learn more about this awesome opportunity go to http://jdcentwine.org/jsc

12th Ecuentro of Jewish Organizations and Leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean

Posted: November 12, 2012

I have recently gotten back from Quito, Ecuador where I attended the 12th Encuentro of Jewish Organizations and Leaders in the region. 

I found this GA to be incredibly interesting and a very unique experience. I not only was able to sit in on many interesting political speaches, presentations on the importance of new IT innovations, as well as fundraising technologies, but I was also able to get a better idea of what it is like to be a Jew in the region.

Buenos Aires is lucky to have such a big Jewish populations.  Although they may not always agree they do not have to worry as much about other things that I saw presentations on, such as hate crimes and a quickly diminishing population.  Columbia and Venezuela both have issues with the former, and counties such as Bolivia and Ecuador have problems particularly with the later. The hot issue on peoples minds were however a diminishing populations, mostly from immigration and intermarraige.  Stemming from this was questions on how to better accommodate different types of Jews into the community as a whole.  This is something that I can relate to.  I am not observant, and although I do celebrate the high holy days with my family and culturally view myself as Jewish, I have had some issue finding my place around those more obvservant than I.

Particularly intersting was hearing from JDC employees working in Cuba.  I had never really heard about life there first hand, and it was both unreal and amazing to hear about their experiences.  It is important and very smart that the team working there allows the Jewish community to develop in its own way, as it has done in other countries. It is a funny thing to have overlooked but I found it so odd but again made sense, that everyone gets paid $25 be their profession a doctor or taxi driver.  

The evironment as 500 Jews in the area was not as tense as I imagine it would be in other countries. Again something that I really admire about Latin America. There is anti-semitism of course but it seems to be a lot less than in other parts of the world.  There was minimal security for us, but of course it is unfortunate that there had to be any at all.

Towards the end of the conference I have to say my head was swimming, but the last night was one of the most memorable of my life.  We were invited to the JCC in Quito for dinner, and the experience was incredible!  The JCC is magnificent, and the decor and food were really fantastic as well.  Througout the conference I had sort of felt as though we were one community, but it wasn't until everyone, young and old started dancing together, that a wave of happiness and oneness came over me.  Dancing everything from Gangnam Style to the Hora and Salsa, I once again had the feeling of how special it was to be Jewish, and how wonderful it really was that no matter if I am in NYC or in Quito, I am really still part of a global Jewish community, who will always have a beautiful strong bond with each other, and care deeply for each others well being. 

 

 

A Special Day at Baby Help

Posted: November 2, 2012

Today was a really great and special day at Baby Help.  Two grades of kids from a local Jewish school stopped by to say hi and to play with the babies and toddlers that I work with.  Granted it was a little overwhelming at first to have a huge influx of "big kids," but I was really fantastic to see them hang out together.

The older kids, about middle school age I'd say, were super well behaved, but more importantly they were super excited to help out with the kids at Baby Help.  I'm not so sure if I've seen kids their age in the US that excited to see little babies, or even act so mature around them.  There was one girl who was upset she didn't have a little toddler to partner up with.  I feel like a lot of kids I've met in the states would kind of take the excursion as an excuse to be out of school and goof off but not these ones. They were really keen to learn about the babies.

We spent about an hour hanging out together, and basically let the kids do most of the work besides general supervision etc. At the end the kids said goodbye and gave each age group a gift that they had made.  They ranged from blankets, to rattles, and kaleidoscopes.  

I think having done this was a really great idea, although it was a little stressful organization-wise at times.  Everyone for the most part seemed to be really excited and into the activities of the day.  I don't know if many of the older kids were at Baby Help themselves, but they knew all of the same songs, and I'm glad that the bonding between the jewish community here spans multiple age groups and organizations.

Coming off of this idea, the upcoming 12th Summit for Jewish Leaders and Organizations of Latin America and the Carribean is happening this comming week in Quito, Ecuador.  I will be attending, and I'm excited to see how this intermingling and information sharing conference will pan out.  I shall certainly update once again about my thoughts of this meeting, and I am very much looking forward to it!

 

 

Delving Deeper

Posted: October 23, 2012

After about a month working with the same amazing women at Baby Help, I have found a little bit more out about the Jewish community that I would like to share.

The community itself, reminds me a lot more of the US Jewish community than I expected, and of course more than any other I've encountered in the world.  I volunteered with the JDC on a short-term service trip to Ukraine my sophomore year of college and found the Jewish population to be what I expected. Slightly hidden, tryig to stay unified, and also trying to figure out it's role in the post -Soviet era.  All of these sentiments are understandable, and oddly go hand in hand with the sense I get from other Jews/Jewish communities throughout Europe that I have been in contact with.  There are reasons for this of course. The proximity in time and geography to WWII Germany no doubt still harps on the minds of European Jews.  They seem to have as yet not become as comfortable with their religious identity as US Jews, or as I recently discovered, as Argentine Jews have.

Maybe it is the distance, maybe it is the laid back culture, but the openness and informality of Judaisim in Argentina does certainly remind me of the US, or at least NYC where I grew up.  And, I might add, it is quite refreshing to finally see another country with this attitude.  

I spoke with some of my colleagues and they too had grandparents and greatgrandparents who fled from Poland and Russia towards the beginging to the 20th century, as I and many of my friends in the US have.  As it was when I was growing up, there are various degrees of observance, with the trend, as is my experience in the US, towards reform.  (Here I feel it is even more so because they are a minority, in a more Christian/Catholic country I guess).  Yet as it is near Brighton Beach and other parts of Brooklyn, in the Once barrio of Buenos Aires, you can find multitudes of Orthodox Jews, living, it seems, peacefully in their city.  Even on my plane ride down there were a few orthodox families.  

While it is refreshing to see this, and very interesting to see that despite the distance, NYC and BA Jewish communities have followed on a similar trajectory, there still is that question about the future many Jewish communities around the world ask themselves.  What role will religion play for these communities in the future? Why is reform Judaism and lack of observance on the rise? and is it a bad thing as long as the culture and memory is preserved? These are questions I often ask myself, but they are also questions that will be asked at the 12th summit for Jewish Organizations and Leaders held in 2 weeks in Quito, Ecuador.  I will be attending, and I hope to shed some light on these questions afterwards.  But before then, I will attempt to delve deaper to share what Judaism seems to mean for my colleagues and other Argentine Jews I have met thus far.

 

 

First Impressions of Judaism in Argentina

Posted: October 10, 2012

I've been here for almost 3 weeks now, and for a little over half that time, I have been in various Jewish centered places. Where I work for starters, caters to the needs of children, families and elderly Jews alike.  There is an Israeli hostel, created by a wealthy man who wanted to make sure Jews and Israeli's visiting Buenos Aires would have a place to go during the holidays. And finally, I went to see Hebraica, a Jewish community center, that at times resembles a typical Argentine fútbol club as it has many sports teams and other competitive options for the adolescents involved there.

What struck me most initially was just how many Jews there seem to be in BA.  The place I work at and Hebraica are huge buildings, employing a good number of people.  The individuals I met at the Israeli hostel came from all over the country and world.  Even walking down the street I sometimes see stores with names such as Lajaim (pronounced L'chaim). The community here strikes me as vast, and maybe due to their numbers or the laid back culture here, it seems to be a relatively casual thing to be a Jew in Argentina.  

What I mean to say is this. When I go to Europe or any another country or city really besides NYC, USA where I am from, I am quite obviously in the minority, and at times I don't really like to share that I am Jewish.  I don't think that in this day and age people tend to be anti-Semitic, but especially in some European countries, you never really know how people will react to your being Jewish.  Here, on the other hand, I'm not really worried about people’s reactions when finding out, and in fact I'm the one who seems surprised to meet another fellow Jew. 

A prime example of this is from work the other day, when I was chatting with a coworker as we were helping to set up a little event for the kids at Baby Help to teach them about Rosh Hashanah.  I assumed my coworker was Jewish, and wanted to find out more about her family history.  She soon told me she was not, but added that she kind of wished she were.  She thought that our culture and history was very interesting, and the stories told on our holidays very beautiful and moving.  I asked her if everyone else thought that way, after all there was a bombing here only a few years ago, which made it necessary to have barricades in front of all Jewish buildings.

She said that for her part, she really thought that people here respect each other's beliefs, religion included.  This made me very happy to say the least, and made me understand even further how the Jewish community was really able to grow and solidify itself here. 

 

 

A typical day as a JSC multi-week volunteer in Buenos Aires :)

Posted: October 6, 2012

Now that I've completed 4 full days of work, I can tell you a bit about what it's like.

I am set to work Tuesday to Friday, 10:30 ish until 4 ish at JDC's Baby Help center in the Chacaritas barrio of Buenos Aires.  Since a lot of holidays are coming up, it's easier for me to not work on Monday's since I'd probably have them off anyway.

Usually, I'll wake up at around 9, get ready, prepare myself some lunch to take with me, and walk about a block north to catch the 39 collectivo (bus) to take until the last last stop of its route... the bus depot actually. The center I work at is just across the street from there. 

Catching the bus can be a little tricky and sometimes really annoying actually. Unlike in NYC, you have to stick out your hand and hail a bus. This works well, and keeps congestion down a bit I think.. Unless the bus you want is in the outside lane and can't see you because a car is blocking it's view, or doesn't feel like maneuvering in in time, causing you to "miss your bus" and be a bit later than you wanted. Grr.... The "metrocard" they use here is called a Sube. Unlike other cities I've been to, it's personalized for everyone. I had to bring my actual passport, not just a photocopy, in order to get one. From there it's rechargeable.  When you get on the bus, you can either tell them where you're going and they tell you how much you're going to pay... or you can just tell them $1.10 or $1.25, the average amount for a ride without too much fussing. The metro is more straight forward.. no hailing trains down :) and it's $2.25 without having to check out with your Sube as you have to do in DC or Paris.

Once I get to work, I am almost always with the 6 mo. to 2yr. olds, and only a couple of times, when they needed more people, or if someone was really shy or misbehaving, did I watch some 2yr. and up year olds.  When I arrived with Katina on my first day, I didn't really have a preference about what I was going to do.  Since they have anywhere from two to four 6 mo. olds who need to be carried and feed them, and only have two adults who work there normally, my extra hands were definitely most useful there. Although I don't really get to practice my spanish with some little ones, who have a similar level of spanish to me (haha) I get to talk with my co workers a bit, who are really great and friendly.

Every day is something different with the kids, but usually is playing until lunch at 12, nap time right after at about 1, until about 2:30ish some more playing or some sort of activity, and then snack time, after which the parents start trickling in. During the nap time I'll eat and they help if they need things set up, or help with some really young babies- there are only one or two.

On Fridays, since it is a jewish center, the kids learn about different holidays and do a little Shabbat snack time.  This aspect is super cool for me to see. Although not everyone who works there is jewish, it's really awesome for me to see all these little kids who are jewish learning about the culture and religion.  In addition, the more I'm down here in BA, I'm really amazed at how the whole jewish community comes together, and is in fact really quite large.  It's always been interesting for me to see and meet jews from different countries, and it never stops surprising me how much of a global community there really is.  This doesn't mean that everyone is super religious or observant by any means, but we know that we have something in common, which is not always the case when traveling far and wide. I'm excited to get to know and share more about the community while I'm here, as well as more details about how Baby Help works, who's involved, and what that's like in the context of living in Argentina.

If you want to see more about my life in Buenos Aires apart from my work at the Baby Help center check out my blog at roamingreebs.blogspot.com 

 

 

About

Rebecca Hirschfeld
Joined: July 7, 2012

 

 

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