One of the best University Synagogue tours ever was our 2000 trip to Argentina and Brazil. Both countries were physically beautiful and Jewishly fascinating, and the speakers with whom we met were unforgettable.
Since that time, however, Argentina has been reduced to terrible economic straits, and its once-thriving middle class is in danger of disappearing. That middle class made Argentina unique in South America, where polarization between rich and poor is the norm.
Moreover, the 200,000 Jews of Argentina generally found themselves in that middle class, and for the last two decades, it afforded them democracy, security and prosperity. Now, those touchstones of everyday life are eroding, and thousands of Jews have been forced over the last 20 months to ask for financial help from synagogues, Jewish centers and local federations.
It would have been unimaginable two years ago to see Jews eating at soup kitchens or standing in unemployment lines. Some have made aliyah, but it's so hard to begin life and language again when you are no longer young. So most suffer, and they do so silently, because they are ashamed even to ask for help.
Jewish schools are closing, synagogues can't afford to even set out a nice kiddush on Shabbat and everyone feels helpless and demoralized.
Imagine what would happen to us if our earnings and savings dropped by 75 percent and unemployment rose to 54 percent. We'd be in shock, unable to cope, afraid of the present and terrified of the future for ourselves and our children. That's the situation in which Argentina finds itself.
Six months ago, University Synagogue raised over $60,000 in a six-week period to donate an ambulance to Israel through Magen David Adom. We performed the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh (saving lives).
Now, once again, we have launched a life-saving campaign, as we adopt Buenos Aires' Congregation Dor Hadash, a synagogue that hosts a soup kitchen for the Jews and non-Jews of its neighborhood.
That neighborhood, Villa Crespo, is so Jewish that its nickname is "Villa Kreplach," but its Jewish future can no longer be taken for granted as its residents begin to leave, moving into poorer parts of Buenos Aires or leaving the country completely.
We have asked each University Synagogue adult to contribute $50 or more and each child $18 or more so that we can send a gift to Congregation Dor Hadash as soon as possible. We also have a Patron's category for $500 to $1,000 or more per adult. Patrons will receive special recognition from Congregation Dor Hadash.
All gifts of any size are appreciated and necessary. Each day that we delay means more hunger, more fear, more humiliation and more desperation. We invite the community to join us by supporting our appeal or establishing others within their synagogues.
The popular song from "Evita" tells us: "Don't cry for me, Argentina." We're not crying for Evita, whose Peronist Party is greatly responsible for Argentina's economic plight, but for Argentina and its people and our fellow Jews.
In this new year of hope and possibility, let's show the same spirit of tzedakah (charitable giving) for our Jewish brothers and sisters in Argentina that we, as Jews, have shown across the world. As Hillel reminds us:
Si no ahora, quando?/Im lo achshav, aymati?/If not now, when? Â
Arnold Rachlis is rabbi at University Synagogue in Irvine. For more information on the fund drive, call (949) 553-3535 or visit www.universitysynagogue.org.