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Around the Jewish World to Escape the Economic Crisis, Young Uruguayans Look Abroad

December 19, 2003
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At 29, a Jewish dentist in this capital city still lives with her parents because she can’t afford to move out on her $100-a-month salary.

At 23, Javier Sarganas, a student, plans to move to Israel at the end of the month because he can’t find a job that would enable him to move out of his parents’ house and live alone.

“Young people don’t leave home because their salaries are too small,” Sarganas says, explaining that he hopes to find “better opportunities to work and progress” in Israel.

Since Uruguay’s economy collapsed in 2002 along with that of neighboring Argentina, Uruguay’s Jews have faced an uphill battle trying to make ends meet, particularly at the entry-level end of the job market.

Some jobs are available, but salaries remain largely inadequate. Salaries for graduating students average $100 to $200 per month — often in fields unrelated to students’ fields of study.

There are some exceptions.

Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, runs a job-placement program for Uruguayan students that has a high success rate for qualified applicants. The program uses professional connections in the Jewish community to place students in appropriate internships.

Denise Dalva, 23, a current participant in the program, called Recurso Joven, says the workshops are very interesting.

“They help with everything; how to design a resume, how to behave in an interview, how to find a job. We learn where to find jobs in our fields,” Dalva says.

In its first year, the program has successfully placed 30 percent of its participants, according to coordinator Adrian Bendelman.

But many young Uruguayans are looking abroad for job opportunities in places like Israel, the United States, elsewhere in Latin America and Europe.

All of Uruguay’s Jewish day schools and eight Zionist youth groups promote aliyah for the country’s young Jews.

Israel offers special economic benefits to immigrants from Argentina and Uruguay because of the severity of the economic crisis there. But the special offer expires at the end of 2003, and many Uruguayan Jews are rushing to make the deadline. About 190 Uruguayan Jews are slated to emigrate to Israel on Dec. 29.

Alejandra Abulafia, an actress and writer, is among them.

Unable to make ends meet doing freelance work, Abulafia is taking advantage of an offer for a free flight to Israel and will move to a kibbutz at the end of December.

“I am going to Israel because they give me the opportunity to go,” she says.

Uruguayan Jews also are moving elsewhere in Latin America.

Guillermo Lazar, a 24-year-old chef, is moving next month to Recife, Brazil, from Montevideo. Money is the primary reason for the move, he says.

In Brazil, “the way of life is better. Life in Uruguay is very expensive, with very high taxes. Petrol here costs more than in Europe or the U.S., and people here make far less,” Lazar says. “Uruguay is depressing. The people are depressed.”

The United States also presents an alluring option for Uruguayan emigrants, but it’s hard to get there given tightened immigration policies enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Those who want to go to the United States to study at U.S. universities face another challenge: high tuition fees.

Daiana Beitler, a 19-year-old student, gained admittance to an Ivy League university but was forced to turn it down because she couldn’t afford it. She stayed in Uruguay, and is frustrated.

“Here you can’t find a job based on what you study,” she says. “I want to do research, and here you can’t have that. If you want to be a sociologist or an anthropologist or an artist, you can’t. You see doctors working as security guards.”

“Everything is so slow,” Beitler says. “Since the crisis, everyone is nervous and depressed. Many people are sick because they are stressed. The atmosphere is tense everywhere you go.”

She says, “I want to go to England, and the U.S. would be good too. I feel like here the world is outside — here we are stuck in the past.”

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