In Argentina, Building First-Rate Jewish Leaders through Learning Fest
Fernando R. is not a typical bank general manager. Nor was he a typical psychoanalyst, or human resources professional, or business consultant before that. That’s because in addition to the tremendous passion he brings to every endeavor, he also applies the unique skills he acquired through participating in JDC’s leadership and professional training programs in Argentina’s Jewish community.
Fernando recalls fondly his first Jewish experience: the special feeling of watching the lighting of Shabbat candles at the Hebraica JCC in Buenos Aires. “To me, during my youth, to be a Jew meant participating in Jewish youth group, celebrating Kabbalat Shabbat, and spending Jewish holidays with my family.” He trained as a madrich (counselor) and then became a teacher at the madrich school. But his true “aha moment” as a Jewish leader came after he took part in the Program for Directors of Jewish Organizations at Leatid, JDC’s educational and professional training hub for Jewish professionals and community leaders in Latin America.
“Many of the subjects I learned at Leatid—strategy development and planning, setting goals and benchmarks—together with Jewish education, helped me not only in my career as a Jewish community professional, but also in my later life as a businessman.” At the graduation of the two-year program, he made a pledge to maintain and recreate Jewish life for others. “Everyday I try to make sure my actions honor that commitment.”
His promise took him from serving as a community director to becoming Leatid’s president, and then led him to join the founding group for Limmud Argentina, which he chairs today.
Limmud, meaning learning in Hebrew, is a pluralistic grassroots initiative; a conference and event series that brings Jews of all ages together to learn, often in an “unconventional” venue (i.e., not a synagogue or Jewish Community Center). Since it’s inception in the UK in 1980, this completely volunteer-organized program has spread to 50 countries around the globe with thousands of people participating in hundreds of events. They are all bound by a singular philosophy: “everyone is a student and everyone can be a teacher.”
Fernando was excited by the volunteer-driven, team-oriented nature of Limmud, which he hoped would diversify the engagement opportunities available for young people in his Jewish community. “Building something from the start was very exciting,” he recalls.
In the four years he’s been involved in the event, Fernando has seen Limmud blossom. He’s watched Jewish learning take myriad forms as participants engaged in vigorous biblical text study alongside lively discussions about history, the state of their community, and Judaism’s relevance to problems of everyday life. People of all ages come bursting with creativity and enthusiasm; they leave inspired to continue their Jewish journey by deepening their study in their home communities.
The June 26 Limmud Argentina event welcomed participants from throughout the country, as well as Chile and Uruguay. Its success has inspired the creation of new offshoots in the region, which is exciting because while all Limmuds worldwide are connected to each other, each also reflects its own community.
Fernando remains passionate about the Limmud model: “We are building a space of prestige that encourages participants to replicate it in other places based on the same values.” In creating this very special learning initiative, Fernando has made good on his promise of many years ago. He has helped craft a special Jewish learning environment that will continue to play an important part in shaping his community’s Jewish leaders of tomorrow.
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