Spanish-speaking cyber-surfing Jews, unite!

BUENOS AIRES, July 10 (JTA) — The more than 300 people who met recently in the basement of a Jewish community center here already knew many details of each other’s lives — but not one another’s faces. The AMIA auditorium was packed July 5 for the first meeting of Spanish-speaking cyber-surfing Jews. The two-day meeting ended with promising news: the creation of an Internet department in the Jewish community center to promote Internet contact among Spanish-speaking Jews, helping them maintain a connection to Judaism. “I live in a small town in Chaco province,” said Adriana Krapivka. “We are only five non-assimilated Jews there, my family. If it wasn’t for the Internet, how could I be in touch with Judaism?” The meeting was a kind of virtual family reunion. Following an opening message from AMIA’s president, Abraham Kaul, Internet users from the Argentine provinces, neighboring countries, Spain and Israel spoke about their reasons for coming to the first meeting. “This is a unique opportunity,” said Jaim Grau, an accountant who came from Barcelona for the meeting. “It’s the first time virtual Jewish friends from any language share an organized meeting. If we could bring some coherence and coordination to all the possibilities the Internet is providing us, it certainly will be worthy.” “I came to be with the family I meet every night in front of my computer,” said Ruti Mastich, an Argentine woman who made aliyah 20 years ago. Jorge Lipschitz — known as “Lipi” in online Spanish-speaking Jewish forums — was the architect of the meeting. “I belong to a virtual kehilla,” or Jewish community, Lipschitz told JTA in an interview in his office a few days before the meeting. “Together, we share circumcisions, kaddish and marriages. The people I am in touch with are my virtual, strong family.” Lipschitz told of a woman in the online forum who had to send her 11-year-old son by himself to Australia. The boy had a six-hour layover in a New York airport. “A friend from the Net waited for him and took care of him,” Lipschitz said. “That is what we build.” The event was free to participants, who also received a free CD-ROM guide to Jewish Web sites in Spanish. One man from the Argentine provinces told how Internet connections with other Jews helped him find a job in a Jewish company in Buenos Aires. Another couple told how they began dating through a Spanish-language site for Jews. The meeting was organized with the support of AMIA and sponsored by the local Israeli Embassy, the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Jewish Congress and Buenos Aires municipality. The new AMIA Internet department began work on Monday. The department’s goals include: extending Argentina’s anti-discrimination laws to the Internet; making Internet servers more stringent in prohibiting “offensive content;” and creating an online education forum with Jewish teachers and community leaders. “We will work to coordinate Hispanic Jews’ Internet activities,” Kaul said. For Lipschitz, the meeting helped “to establish a seed for a shared and unique Zionist Jewish virtual identity that will allow us to act organically, to develop Jewish life and to fight anti-Semitism.” “The meeting is a clever project,” said Arieh Avir, the Jewish Agency’s Latin American representative. He added that he hoped the Internet could help preserve Judaism and counter the effects of assimilation in the region. In addition, the Internet can help Diaspora Jews”to be linked with Israel,” according to the cultural attache of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Lior Haiat.

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