BUENOS AIRES, March 6 (JTA) — “Do you speak English?” was the frequent question from the American guests. “ No, but I speak Hebrew,” was the repeated answer from the Argentine hosts. The exchange was heard repeatedly this week as a group of 54 representatives of the United Jewish Communities visited Buenos Aires to see firsthand how the local Jewish community is using funds provided by the umbrella group of North American federations. With this in mind, the group from the Major Gifts Mission met with social workers, rabbis, community leaders and volunteers, as well as formerly prosperous families that now are unemployed. “This community is very knowledgeable about Israel and very educated,” Jack Baum of Dallas told JTA. Baum was surprised to see that many Argentine Jews who speak broken English speak quite good Hebrew. Perhaps more importantly, he also was impressed by the way members of the community were reaching out to those in need. “Argentina, with some 200,000 Jews, has such a large community. If they are in pain, we all are,” Baum said. To the mission chair, Robin Chotin of Denver, the meetings with members of once-middle-class families who lost their jobs or had to close their businesses were particularly important. “What we learned this trip is that this could happen to us,” Chotin said. “And the Argentine community has been so philanthropic. They are very giving people whenever they can.” The mission represented federations from Atlanta; Dallas; Denver; East Bay, Calif.; MetroWest, N.J.; New York; Northeast New York; Palm Beach, Calif.; Rockland County, N.Y.; Savannah, Ga.; and Washington. On Wednesday, during a lunch at a kosher restaurant in the area of town known as Once — a neighborhood with many Jewish shops — delegation members spoke with Hillel students about the needs of sharing Jewish life with fellow students. After lunch, Steve Selig of Atlanta, the national campaign chairman, told JTA that the Jews of Buenos Aires represent a very committed, proud and historic community. “We all feel very at home here,” he said. “We are definitely making a difference with our money,” he added. “We are helping to feed, clothe and educate, and provide medicine, job training and resources to make aliyah.” Last year, the UJC allocated $5 million for welfare programs in Argentina and another $35 million for aliyah, said Victoria Agron, in charge of financial resource development for the UJC. “More money is expected to be given this year,” she said. On Thursday, the mission’s last day — and a very humid one in the Buenos Aires summer — the group met education representatives from the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee andAMIA, which is the central institution for Argentine Jewry. After a year of development, they unveiled their new education coalition, which will work to help financially troubled Jewish schools in Argentina.
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