By Rikma ‘s Coordination team
Throughout much of the Diaspora, Jewish life tends to concentrate in the major cities. The advantage of this phenomenon is that it allows for the consolidation of Jewish services such as synagogues, kashrut, education and so on. Of course, just as the popular song “Wherever You Go, There is Always Someone Jewish” goes, not all Jews stay within the confines of major cities, and there are almost always smaller communities in any Jewishly populated country in the Diaspora (over 90 countries in total). Jewish life in small communities can be rich in Jewish activity, facilities such as schools and youth groups may exist, but these communities still, typically, have to face the challenge of a lack in professional Jewish resources – especially in education.
In the Argentinian Jewish community, one of the largest in the Diaspora, this tendency toward concentration in the major city is particularly apparent. Approximately 80 percent of Argentina’s 200,000 Jews live within the capital, Buenos Aires. Within Buenos Aires, there is a thriving Jewish community with 29 days schools and access to a vast array of Jewish services. Almost 30,000 children (a clear majority of the total student pool) attend Jewish schools. Those living in Buenos Aires benefit from the diversity that allows them to choose the level and nature of their involvement, including the types of Jewish education they want for their children.
For the 33.000 Jews living outside the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, the story is rather different. Organized Jewish activities take place in some 50 communities in the interior, with membership ranging from 30 to 3,000 souls. Some 2,200 students attend 24 day and supplementary schools within provincial communities and Jewish education is seen as one of the highest values within all Argentinian Jewish communities. But the huge challenge facing these peripheral communities is that, without access to local training, the number of high-quality knowledgeable educators has been dwindling.
The Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) is on the path to address this challenge. AMIA has been committed to serving the wellbeing and development of Jewish life in Argentina, throughout almost all spheres of Jewish life, since its early start as an immigrant support organization in 1894. As Argentina’s major national organization and the head of the Vaad Kehilot national federation of communities, AMIA has developed, with the support of Keren Pincus, an innovative new program, named RIKMA, to enrich peripheral communities and provide them with better access to quality Jewish educators.
Through the RIKMA program, Jewish educators from the capital, selected for their excellence, have been travelling from their homes in Buenos Aires to smaller communities to lead quality educational programs. The program, which will eventuality reach up to half of all communities in the country, operates through several modalities depending on the size of the community. In the smaller communities, the educators stay overnight, holding workshops and activities that touch upon important Jewish topics. These educators are ‘twinned’ as it were with individual communities and return throughout the year, to conduct programs, mentor local youth and other leadership in education and bring ideas and materials to which the community would not otherwise have access.
In the larger communities the plan is to arrange longer term ‘semester’ visits lasting up to three months during periods of the year which are most intensive in terms of Jewish educational opportunities (from Purim to Shavuot and throughout the High Holyday period for example). This is intended to provide ongoing support in places where the day school, the youth movement and so on, function, but without the level of Jewish educational expertise they need to maximize their Jewish educational potential.
The RIKMA educators from Buenos Aires undergo training to learn more about the communities that they will be visiting, and define the content that would best fit that community. This has a twofold additional impact. Firstly, it creates a professional growth opportunity for the educators themselves and secondly it brings back to the capital some of the flavor of Jewish life in small communities which can often be surprisingly vibrant. And not all of the educators come from Buenos Aires. In some cases educators from the larger provincial communities now service smaller communities in their region. Thus, RIKMA is helping to create a different dynamic across Argentinian Jewry, a dynamic in which it is understood that resources need to be shared and the stronger have a responsibility to help the weaker.
Rather than focusing all of its attention on the central Jewish community of Argentina, AMIA is thinking outside the box by tapping into the resources this central community and sharing that with the smaller provincial communities. With a philosophy that no one should be left behind, this new program is playing a major role in creating a thriving Jewish life throughout all of Argentina. In just 6 months, RIKMA educators have held over 36 programs throughout 15 of the 21 target communities. In such short time, the program has already touched the lives of more than a thousand Jewish community members. More activities, and visits to new communities are always being planned, expanding the already strong impact of the RIKMA program, and the program is sure to continue to play a massive role in the life of Argentinian Jewry.
Article prepared by Rikma ‘s Coordination team, form by Karin Paley,Proyect Coordinator, Ana Kestenbaum Coordinator of Vaad Hakehilot ( Area of AMIA that deals with communities inside Argentina) and Lic. Anita Weinstein Advisor.