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Around the Jewish World in Trying Times, Argentine Jews Come Together for Shavuot Events

May 22, 2002
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Maria Grullich, 63, lost her drugstore last year after it was robbed and she had no money to restock it.

Optician Alberto Kusnier, 54, was fired a few months ago from another drugstore and hasn’t been able to find a new job.

Grullich and Kusnier participated at a Shavuot celebration last Thursday in Buenos Aires’ Belgrano neighborhood organized by the local Tzedaka social service organization and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

As with Passover celebrations that the two groups sponsored earlier this year, the Shavuot event was meant to bring together an Argentine Jewish community that has been devastated by the country’s economic crisis.

The organizations sponsored packed Shavuot celebrations in 26 Jewish institutions in Buenos Aires and another 14 elsewhere in the country. But the Argentine crisis was a special guest that no one could avoid.

Grullich and Kusnier both were invited to attend the Shavuot celebration in Belgrano, where six institutions — including synagogues, schools and clubs — were celebrating together.

Both received food for Shavuot and money for their bus transportation.

“Before coming here tonight, I was just thinking of the meaning of Shavuot and the tablets of the law. They seem to be so simple. But this country is so complex and unfair,” said Grullich’s husband Jorge, 67.

Jorge Grullich is retired and has a hearing problem.

“If it weren’t for the Jewish community’s support, I wouldn’t even have the hearing aid I need,” he said.

For Kusnier, anger seemed to be the foremost emotion.

“Although the Jewish community has given me some food or clothes, it’s not enough. I have a mortgage on my apartment and I can’t afford my daughter’s school fee any more,” he said. “What I need is a job, and in this country it seems impossible to get. No one helps me get a job.”

Kusnier attended Shavuot with his family. His son Daniel said he wants to emigrate to Canada or Australia.

“This is such an unfair country,” said Daniel, 18, who is studying at a public institute to become an electrician.

Organizers of the event felt that, especially during a holiday that falls during this trying time, it was important to bring the community together. They put special emphasis on summoning 8,000 beneficiaries of welfare programs throughout the country.

Economic support is not enough; the welfare beneficiaries also need spiritual support, said Sergio Sliavsky, deputy director of the Tzedaka Foundation.

“In such a difficult moment, people shouldn’t be alone,” Sliavksy said. “They have to get together with a community that should help them live in such a” crisis.

Along with JDC and Tzedaka, three major local Jewish institutions — the ORT Argentina school, the AMIA central Jewish institution and the Argentine Federation of Maccabean Community Centers — collaborated in organizing the celebrations. In addition, 1,000 volunteers worked in the days leading up to and during the event.

Shavuot events generally attract fewer people than do Passover celebrations, but organizers said that in many centers far more people than expected showed up.

“This means people were needing both spiritual and economic help,” Sliavksy said.

At Belgrano, 1,200 people came for the Shavuot program. The site didn’t have enough chairs, and the audience had to be split into two groups.

As at every Shavuot, the Torah was one of the focuses of the night.

“The torah is a toolbox that gives us a solution to our problems. We have to use those tools to repair the fact that we had fallen asleep,” Rabbi Sergio Bergman told the Belgrano crowd. “Every day we can fix something. If we do not fix ourselves, we won’t repair our place, our family, our world.”

Therefore, he said, it’s important that Jews study Torah on Shavuot.

Bergman’s words made him realize how comforting it is to belong to such a “united and warm community,” Jorge Grullich said.

In another corner of the ground floor, Kusnier’s wife, Beatriz, said she was “quite happy” to be with the community that night.

But their urgent problem — pressing mortgage payments — still occupied her thoughts.

“We are about to lose our home, and I don’t know where are we going to go,” she said.

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