Down Argentine Way: Reform Trip Opens Lines of Communication

When 20-year-old Jillian Kahn returned glowing from a Birthright Israel trip in January, she had no idea that come summer, her connection with the Jews of Argentina would feel as powerful as her bond with her co-religionists in Israel.

But Kahn – who attends the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona, and whose family belongs to Shir Ami-Bucks County Jewish Congregation in Newtown – joined 20 other college students from around the country on the second "Argentina Ambassadors" program sponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism. She returned home to the Garden State on June 6.

The initial Reform trip to Argentina, which was held in 2003, was designed to offer assistance to that country's Jewish community in the wake of Argentina's severe economic collapse, according to Lisa David, acting director of the URJ's KESHER/College department.

She explained that this time around, the 13-day-trip, which left on May 25, was less about responding to a crisis and more about keeping lines of communication open between two Diaspora communities. It was also geared to teaching young American Reform Jews about another progressive Jewish community.

"This was an opportunity for the students to build personal relationships and do some hands-on community work," said David.

The group paired up with members of Netzer, an international Reform youth organization, and helped their Argentinian counterparts spruce up a newly purchased community and education center in Buenos Aires. The Americans also had the chance to attend synagogue services in the South American city, and travel to the northern part of the country to visit Avigdor, an agriculture colony established in 1936 to house Jews who had fled Nazi Germany.

Kahn said she hopes to return to Argentina for a semester abroad in the spring.

"I could never imagine fitting that much into one day. The [Argentinian Jews] are always helping out less fortunate people. One of the synagogues we visited doubles as a homeless shelter," she said. "I wish I had the chance to stay longer and make more of an impact."

A Different Lifestyle
In fact, the group's allotted "labor days" were cut in half from four to two because a torrential downpour made it unsafe to work.

So, in between learning about Argentine Jewry's cultural history and painting classrooms, was there any opportunity for some good old college fun?

Of course. But Kahn explained that the Americans could not keep up with their newfound friends without the help of some caffeine.

"Their whole lifestyle is different," she explained. "They ate dinner at 9 or 10 at night, which was really hard to get used to. Then we went out to some bars and clubs."



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