One of the basic teachings of our tradition is "All Israel is responsible for one another" (Talmud, Shevuot 39a). This principle is described in God's command, "If there is a needy person among you do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your kin. Rather, you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient..." (Deuteronomy 15:7-8). As we strive to fulfill this responsibility to our fellow Jews, we recognize that we have not completed our task for our Argentinean brothers and sisters in Argentina. Need our help now.
For over 150 years, Argentina has had a vibrant Jewish community. After World War II many Holocaust survivors made their way to Argentina to begin a new life and were welcomed by the existing Jewish community. After the bombings of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the Jewish Community AMIA building in 1994, Jews began emigrating to Israel, the United States, Canada and Mexico. With the meltdown of the Argentine economy in 2001, emigration increased, leaving a Jewish population of about 190,000 concentrated in the larger cities. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) are all working to resettle those Jews who choose to emigrate.
The remaining Jewish community has been devastated by the loss of savings, homes, and jobs. The social safety net has been severely compromised and the community has experienced an alarming degree of institutional disintegration.
The Jewish community in Argentina has rallied to help those who have fallen on hard times through a variety of programs. Leading the work of creating a communal safety net is the Progressive Movement's Fundacion Judaica, led by Rabbi Sergio Bergman. Three progressive congregations in Buenos Aires are part of the Fundacion and additional congregations in the provinces are joining this vital structure. Its goal is to build a new Jewish community dedicated to a new Argentina. With a large volunteer network, the Fundacion is devoting itself to community education and social welfare. In order to meet its social welfare objectives, the Fundacion has instituted programs to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical assistance, and youth and job training programs. One of Fundacion's most moving activities is the weekly Rabbi's Tisch. Every Friday night after Kabbalat Shabbat services, two synagogues provide a free Shabbat dinner to any member of the community who attends. Additionally, the Fundacion maintains the spirit of the community by supporting community cultural events.
A new program called "Kosher Life" seeks to make and sell organic food products certified by the Argentine Progressive Rabbinic community as Kosher. The Kosher Life Concept is a modern ethical and environmental approach to kashrut that is consonant with the Reform view of kashrut and does not subscribe to the strict Orthodox definition. Kosher Life's first project is production of an organic wine from the Mendoza region of Argentina for export to the United States and Canada. There are plans to produce and export honey and olive oil as well. Earnings will be used to help those in need.
But the needs outstrip the community's resources to help itself. In addition to seeking direct financial support, the World Union for Progressive Judaism, in conjunction with the URJ and the CCAR, has been instrumental in assisting the Fundacion Judaica in its work. The three organizations have formed the Yad b'Yad task force, which among other activities, sponsors adult and youth missions to Argentina to gain first-hand experience of the life of the Argentine Jewish community. The task force also works to promote fundraising in North America on behalf of the Argentine Jewish community, and to bolster cultural exchange programs between the two progressive Jewish communities.
THEREFORE, the Union for Reform Judaism:
- Expresses its support for and commends the work of the Progressive Jewish Argentine Community and the Fundacion Judaica for its innovative programming and support services for the Jewish community of Argentina during the difficult times it has experienced in the past several years;
Urges our congregations and their members to:
- Undertake and support educational programs on the plight of the Argentine Jewish community;
- In cooperation with the Yad b'Yad task force, undertake projects to help the Argentine Jewish community through fundraising, designating funds for Argentine assistance programs through the World Reform Appeal, and other appropriate means,
- Join missions to Argentina under the auspices of the WUPJ in cooperation with KESHER, local community organizations, or individual congregations to show our support and concern for our Argentine brothers and sisters in this time of great need;
- Sponsor Argentine youth to attend URJ summer camps and other youth and educational programs wherever feasible; and
- Assist in the resettlement of Argentine Jews who join have moved to our communities, and welcome in them into our congregations.