Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pesaj, viaje a Mendoza, la comunidad judía, y mucho más!

Over here things have been really distracting and busy and wonderful.

For Pesach (here they spell it Pesaj) I had two wonderful experiences - I was invited to a seder for each night at two different Sephardi families in the community. The seders were mostly in Spanish (with some Hebrew too), I learned a few new customs and just soaked in the lively and excited atmospheres!

During the week of Pesach my friend and I traveled to Mendoza which is in the northern-central part of Argentina and is known for it's wine-making! We had a lovely time hiking and rappelling in the mountains, soaking in the termas (hot springs), and relaxing in the city's huge park that has a lake and a beautiful view of the mountains.

Even though we were eating only kosher for Pesach food, with some creativity and enthusiasm we put together some fantastic, healthy, and delicious meals!

Since we spent a Shabbat and the last two days of Pesach there we were able to meet the very small Jewish community that is a Conservative shul and one Chabad house. Our highlight was meeting, Carlos, the director of religious affairs at the Conservative shul, who was a joyful, welcoming, gracious, friendly older man! He was so happy that we came and I since the community was so small I offered to read Torah one of the days, that is - if they needed the help- and though he was overjoyed that I was interested and gave me a small portion to practice, they could not get a minyan (the 10 adults needed for a service and to read Torah), so unfortunately I could not have my Torah reading debut out in Mendoza!

Back in Buenos Aires, my classes picked up and I'm starting to enjoy most of them - intensive Castellano, yoga, sculpture, a theater class in Spanish, and a human rights internship - of which the seminar has started already, though I am anticipating to start the internship part. For the internship I'll be working at an organization called Fundación por el Arte hacia la Vida (Foundation for Art to Life), that is government funded and offers all sorts of workshops and classes from arts to music to computers to building construction for teenagers (around 14-17 yrs. old) that had or have drug-related problems. The goal of the organization is to provide skills that will motivate these kids to take on an interest and find a skill that they can use toward a future profession. I plan to do arts related classes with them and as soon as I start working there I'll send you an update!

In other news, I was having a tough time and my original homestay since I didn't get along well with the Señora, so after many stress-filled and guilt-filled weeks I finally switched to a new host family. And I love it here! Everything is as good as can be and better! I'm now living a bit farther away from my classes in a neighborhood called Villa Crespo, but there's a convenient subte line is very quick, as long as I can squeeze my way into the subway car in the morning...Since it's so crowded, sometimes I have to wait for two or three subways to go by before I can squeeze in.
Villa Crespo (or as the Argentines I met at a Dati Leumi shul this Shabbat jokingly called it - Villa Creplach!) is the neighborhood with the highest percentage of Jews, though many are unaffiliated, like my host family, though they respect and embrace my religious practices.

Victoria and Mario are a middle-aged couple, who are adorable, very hospitable and just want me to feel at home! They have three kids - one son living with his wife and kids in Israel (outside of Haifa), one daughter living with her family in Patagonia, and their youngest daughter, who's 37, lives here in Buenos Aires and I'll probably meet her soon since she comes over to their house for dinner once in a while.
Victoria is a wonderful cook and makes me delicious vegetarian food (and it's not trouble for her since Mario also eats vegetarian-style!). Unlike most Argentines, she has a rack filled with different spices in her well-kept, clean and neat kitchen. She is definitely a real balabusta!
She's also taking both Hebrew and English language classes, though we speak mostly in Spanish since she knows I want to practice.
Right near our house there's a lovely circular parque, where Mario and Victoria go walking every morning, and I just started jogging there too!
Mario is an accountant and works in an office from home a lot of the time. Most mornings we have breakfast together and he listens to the news on his little portable radio which I try to understand as well, though at 7or 8am it's a bit hard to focus and listen to someone speaking in Spanish so quickly... He also reads the newspaper and tells me about something happening in the political world or about local events that are happening - like this week there is going to be a huge book fair in town!

Last week I went to two massive events in the Jewish community - one was for Yom Hashoah Ve'Hagevurah (Holocaust Memorial Day) and one for Yom Ha'aztmaut (Israeli Independence Day). Through random connections I ended up meeting a kid my age who is very involved in the leadership of the various Zionist youth groups in the community. And thus, he invited me to these wonderful events - which both took place downtown - one in a large theater (where Broadway-like shows are performed) and the other in the Luna Park (where they have indoor sporting events...) - and at both events the venues were filled with people from the Jewish community here. Throughout my years at yeshiva day school I've been to many ceremonies for these significant days, but to experience an event where the entire Jewish community comes together in the most heavily Jewish populated city in South America, felt overwhelmingly unique. In addition, this Argentine friend of mine spoke at both the events as the representative of the young leaders in the local Zionist youth groups. The fact that I knew someone who spoke at these events before the giant crowds, brought it so much closer to home, and made me feel like less of a foreigner in Buenos Aires and more a part of the larger universal Jewish community.

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