Argentine Jews crowd job center

An Argentine Jew receives computer training at a job center in Buenos Aires. (JDC)

An Argentine Jew receives computer training at a job center in Buenos Aires. (JDC)

BUENOS AIRES, March 7 (JTA) — Many Argentine Jews once were members of the middle class, but many among the Jewish professors and store owners have lost jobs and incomes during the country´s economic crisis. What can be done to help them? Enter the Ariel Job Center, which focuses on finding work for unemployed Argentine Jews. The center, a joint project of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Tzedaka Foundation, an Argentine Jewish social service organization, has two main functions: It provides orientation, training and workshops to the unemployed, and it supports small-business projects. "Through intensive training, it provides tools to help people search for jobs," said Alejandro Kladniew, director of the JDC´s Latin American office. The need is apparent at the entrance hall of the center: In just 10 minutes, the receptionist takes 10 phone calls from people looking for work. Since the center opened in October, more than 1,000 people have enrolled in its programs. An estimated 10 percent of them have found a solution, at least temporarily, to their problems. The center trains people looking for work to meet Argentina´s changing job market. People at the center also meet with those in similar situations — finding potential business partners and advisers, or just someone who can lend them bus fare when they´re broke. During one workshop, a man said that he closes his living-room blinds during the day so his neighbors can´t see that he´s at home, Alejandra Goldschmidt, the Job Center´s employment director, told JTA. "He is ashamed of himself for not having a job. With that shame, he does not go out to look for a job," Goldschmidt said. "He finds himself isolated and as if he were a unique case in the world. He gets inside a circle where physical and psychological sufferings increase. At least with the program, they have to turn off the television, dress up and go outside." The center has a bright, spacious office in the Argentine Republic Israeli Congregation building. It´s the site of the Libertad Temple, the first Argentine Jewish institution, which was founded in 1862. Even though the crisis has worsened in the past few months, the Jewish middle class began sliding toward poverty as far back as 1995, Kladniew said. The Argentine middle class and many of the country´s estimated 200,000 Jews were hurt by globalization, he said. At the time, the JDC was dedicated to community development, including leadership training and elderly care. After seeing the first signs of increased need from the community — more parents were asking for scholarships for their children´s Jewish education — the JDC shifted gears, beginning to work with local Jewish institutions on economic issues. By the end of 2000, the JDC announced extra money to deal with poverty issues. The fund was divided in two — half for basic needs such as food, medicine, shelter and cash assistance, and half for employment, including the Job Center. Now there are about 2,000 volunteers and 39 social assistance centers around the country. The JDC expects 21,000 people will be helped in 2002, and the situation has yet to hit rock bottom, Jewish officials say. "More people will need to be assisted, and shelter will be a main issue," Kladniew said. Sorting out housing problems is more expensive than providing medical supplies, he said. To serve this need, the JDC has announced another project to create a housing center dealing with shelter issues. For most of those in need, even a small amount of hope helps. At the age of 38, Daniel lost his job as manager of a textile company. After being out of work for seven months, he was running out of money and his marriage was on the rocks, Goldschmidt said. Daniel first came to the Ariel Job Center by bicycle because he didn´t have enough money for the bus. Then his bike was stolen. After attending the center, Daniel started two new businesses: He joined an architect and an accountant he met at the center to plan an energy conservation project, and he began painting houses. While it doesn´t give him the same status he once had, the paintbrush at least gives him money to take home.

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