NEW YORK (Jan. 22)
Sergio Stilman may be one of the luckier Argentines.
Despite a shattered economy that has left more than a quarter of the country’s 200,000 Jews below the poverty line, Stilman, 38, has held onto his position in pharmaceutical marking.
His wife, Carla, a lawyer by training, has found work teaching 10-year-olds.
But jobs are insecure, he said. And in a country where the economic situation has led to violent crimes, such as kidnapping for ransom, “it’s not safe, and we are really worried about the situation,” Stilman said. “We have two little daughters. We’re worried about the future for them.”
A new online job bank for Argentine Jews may make that future brighter.
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society has partnered with Buenos Aires’ Ariel Job Center, a job training and resource center sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, to create an online database to aid Jews from Argentina and Uruguay to find work in English-speaking countries.
The new initiative allows for direct contact between Argentine Jews and potential employers in North America.
Stilman, for example, has been going to the center for the past three months, hoping to find a new job abroad.
But the job center may upset some Jewish communal leaders — who are eager to bolster Israel at a time of crisis — by diverting potential immigrants from the Jewish state.
With their Western lifestyles and strong Jewish and Zionist backgrounds, Argentine Jews are seen by Israeli officials as attractive immigrants.
HIAS officials insist they still encourage prospective emigrants to move to Israel.
“Our main concern is always to try to send people to Israel,” said Javier Neiman, coordinator for HIAS’ Latin American visa program. But, he said, some families concerned about language or security, for example, simply want to go elsewhere.
David Sarnat, executive vice president of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s North American section, seemed unshaken by HIAS’ new initiative.
“This is a free world; people have free choice,” Sarnat said. “They will decide where they want to go based on the perception of opportunities where they can better their life.”
Israel must make aliyah as attractive as any other option, Sarnat said.
Between the government and the Jewish Agency, Argentine olim receive an absorption package worth roughly $69,000 for a family of four, several thousand dollars more than what is offered to some other categories of immigrants.
The money — in the form of grants, loans and benefits — covers housing, education, language training and other living expenses.
Argentina’s economic crisis exploded in December 2001, when the country went through four presidents and five economic ministers in a single month.
The peso, which was equal to the dollar, has since lost two-thirds of its value. Unemployment officially stands at 22.5 percent, but is believed to be over 30 percent.
Crime rates have skyrocketed, causing wealthy Argentines — and some leaders of the Jewish community — to hire bodyguards.
More than half the country’s population now lives below the poverty line.
Most Argentine Jews eager to emigrate have gone to Israel. More than 6,000 made aliyah in 2002, and at least the same number is expected in 2003, according to the Jewish Agency.
HIAS receives over 100 inquires a day from Argentine Jews considering leaving the country. It directs those interested in aliyah to the Jewish Agency, and helps those who are looking at other destinations.
Between October 2001 and December 2002, HIAS helped 180 Argentine Jews relocate to Mexico, 59 to Costa Rica, 52 to the United States, 49 to Spain and 36 to Italy.
Now, HIAS’ online job bank presents a “new possibility,” said Alejandra Goldschmidt, director of the Ariel Job Center’s employment division. “A lot of people are thinking about” leaving Argentina, “but they don’t know how or where.”
The job center, a modern facility with pale wood walls, quiet cubicles and a network of job training resources, has helped some 4,000 Argentine Jews since it was launched just over a year ago.
For about a year, it has offered a Spanish-language Web list of jobs in Argentina. About two months ago, job seekers also began filing their resumes in English for the HIAS-run site, which became available to employers on Jan. 6. The list can be found at www.hias.org.
“It’s too soon to tell” if any matches have been made from the new database, Neiman said.
But it “will speed up things, because before that we had to find the employers and try to start making the connections,” he said. With the Internet, “you increase the chance that someone will find your name.”
Stilman, who does not want to move to Israel because of the threat of Palestinian terrorism and an anticipated U.S.- led war on Iraq, is holding out hope for the new Web bank.
His wife’s teaching job is a mobile one, he said — and she “can find a good job in the United States or in Canada with this tool.”