Leading Argentine Jewish Group Honors Local Jewish Agency Office

The local office of the Jewish Agency for Israel has received an award from the central institution of Argentine Jewry, but it’s not resting on its laurels. The annual AMIA award, given last Dec. 21, was received primarily as a challenge: The Jewish Agency knows it has much work to do in Argentina to combat assimilation and a lack of Jewish teachers, Arieh Avir, JAFI’s Latin American director, told JTA.

Avir was born in Argentina and made aliyah 42 years ago. He returned to his native country two and a half years ago to head the regional Jewish Agency office.

“I’ve found that the local Jewish community in Argentina is truly Zionist and committed to Israel. But there is a lot of work to be done,” Avir said.

Avir feels the Jewish Agency is succeeding in Argentina by focusing primarily on providing Jewish education and then on promoting aliyah. According to the Jewish Agency, 2004 saw an increase of 4 percent in the number of Argentine children attending Jewish schools. That increase came although the country’s economic crisis made it difficult for families to pay for Jewish education.

Another 1,600 children attend informal Jewish educational projects. Avir called the support the informal education projects receive from the UJA-Federation of New York “crucial.”

To continue providing Jewish education, JAFI is launching a new center in Buenos Aires, in conjunction with Israeli universities, to train Jewish teachers.

In case aliyah drops as Argentina’s economy stabilizes, JAFI is working with year-long university exchange programs and programs that offer the possibility of working in Israeli hotels or caring for elderly Israelis.

This year marked the first of what AMIA hopes will be annual awards. In addition to the Jewish Agency, Argentine Jewish economist Bernardo Kliksberg was honored in November for his commitment to fighting poverty in Latin America.

Kliksberg is coordinator of the Inter-American Development Bank’s Social Capital Inter-American Initiative. The author of 40 books and hundreds of papers, he has been a consultant to 25 governments and to international organizations including the United Nations and UNICEF.

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