Highlights from Argentina, Volunteerism, the State Budget Crisis: Shabbat Shalom

I have three topics this week I want to highlight.  Please accept my apology for writing a slightly longer message than usual.

1. Last week, I joined a group of Jewish Pittsburghers on a mission to Buenos Aires.  I am not going to write a travelogue, but I do want to share some highlights and takeaways.

We visited an ORT High School (ORT is one of the overseas agencies we help to fund).  This highly sophisticated, technically oriented school literally amazed all of us.  It had high level scientific and math education with Jewish and Israel content along with a Hebrew language curriculum.  We experienced the Le Dor Va Dor senior center, an institution as good as our own JAA.  We were reminded of the tragedies that have impacted the Argentinian Jewish community by visiting the site of the Israeli Embassy that was bombed in 1992 and the AMIA Building (similar to our own Federation) that was bombed in 1994.  One of our highlights was an invitation to attend a celebration on the last night of Chanukah at Conservative synagogue with a “rock star” Rabbi.  With over 500 people in attendance, our Pittsburgh delegation was invited to light the fifth candle.  The Rabbi turned to us and said that “this is your home in Buenos Aires”.

For me, this trip was highly personal.  Not only did I reconnect with cousins I hadn’t seen in over 35 years (whose children attended the ORT School), I also was reminded of the work our Federation did in the early 2000’s as a dire economic crisis struck Argentina.  Our Federation system gave additional financial support to help this community through one of the most difficult chapters in its history.  This was a community that prior to the economic collapse mirrored ours with a strong middle class.  Then, literally in just a day, members of the community who were generous donors and supporters of Jewish life became the recipients of food from soup kitchens.  On this trip we saw that because of our support at that time, they have generally rebuilt themselves (while our money still is helping many who live in the poorer areas outside of Buenos Aires).

Often on missions we are moved to see the clients we directly help.  I think we were inspired to see that our help in the past made such a difference to get this community to a place of strength.  Maimonides, a Jewish thinker from the 12th century writes about the eight levels of Tzedaka.  “The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others“.  While the Argentinian Jewish community is still somewhat reliant on our support, it is a fraction of what it was during that trying time in the early 2000’s.

2. Next week, the Jewish Federation’s Volunteer Center will present our 15th Annual Mitzvah Day.  We have more sites lined up than ever before and just yesterday, we achieved an all-time high of 1,000 people registered.  You can read more about Mitzvah Day in an article in NextPittsburgh by clicking here.

3. We are almost halfway through the state’s fiscal year without an approved budget.  This is very scary for many nonprofits that rely on state support to address critical needs throughout our region, including most of our Federation Beneficiary agencies.  Several weeks ago, our Federation conducted a postcard writing campaign to Governor Wolf in all our Jewish Day Schools and our Jewish pre-schools that receive support from the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC)program to urge the passing of a budget so that the EITC dollars can be released.  Last week, our Federation Chair, Cindy Shapira, appeared as part of a panel of civic leaders to express our concern and outrage.  You can read an article in the PG about it here.

Take a moment and call your State Representatives and Senators.  Write to the Governor.  Enough is enough!  This is hurting real people in real need.

Shabbat Shalom.  Hope to see many of you at one of the Mitzvah Day sites next week!

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