Building a Jewish Future Together

September 19, 2023

Representatives of diverse Chilean Jewish organizations gather for a community development seminar.


In Latin America and beyond, JDC relies on decades of expertise to partner with local Jewish communities and address emerging challenges.

Though he’s proud to lead Uruguay’s Fundación Tzedaká, which coordinates care for the neediest members of the country’s 20,000-strong Jewish community, Mauricio Bergstein is quick to acknowledge that the road to his ascension was somewhat accidental.

“I was chosen because the departing chairman thought I’d be a good chairman. I’m grateful to him, but that’s not the ideal way to proceed,” he said with a laugh. “We understand that the best way to achieve our mission is to professionalize — procedures, formal mechanisms, and duly documented ways of operating that provide us with a tried-and-true framework at these critical junctures.”

Fundación Tzedaká is just one of the many institutions and Jewish communities across Latin America with whom JDC works on visioning and strategic planning processes. Across the region, the organization works in 14 countries.

In the case of the Uruguayans, JDC — one of Fundación Tzedaká’s founding partners and funders when it was launched 20 years ago — is working with the organization to review program priorities and address emerging needs, strengthen sustainability, train its Board of Directors, and serve as consultants to the group’s executive team and welfare program leadership.

“The support we’ve received from JDC has been outstanding,” Bergstein said. “We’ve dealt with topics that had never come up before.”

A professional from Uruguay’s Fundación Tzedaká brainstorms at a Montevideo seminar.

Examples like the Uruguay partnership exemplify JDC’s commitment to “saving Jewish lives by building Jewish life,” said Sergio Widder, the organization’s regional director in Latin America.

“We understand it’s important not only to provide direct support when and where it’s needed, but also to empower and strengthen communities,” he said. “Thinking about how communities tackle issues related to sustainability — financial, social, institutional, political — and go through processes of leadership renewal can create better conditions for continuity and self-reliance.”

For example, JDC recently collaborated with the Centro Israelita de Bogotá (CIB) — the country’s largest congregation and the Colombian capital’s Ashkenazi Jewish community — on a strategic planning process that’s begun to advance faster since a field visit in April 2023.

The organization’s vast experience across Latin America helped convince CIB stakeholders to involve JDC in the initiative, said Jaime Nudelman, the group’s president.

“JDC has been fundamental in the whole process, since it’s allowed us to have the perspective of an external entity — not just beyond CIB, but beyond Colombia as a whole,” he said.

In Chile, what began with a narrow focus — the Jewish community seeking advice on how to combat challenges emerging from social unrest in the country — transformed into a more robust process and partnership: a community survey and strategic analytical framework for more expansive conversations about welfare programs, professional development, governance, and more.


“We wanted JDC to give us a work model that would serve as a guiding light for the Chilean Jewish community,” said Gerardo Gorodischer, its former president. “It’s an interesting way to share knowledge, and we’re tremendously grateful to JDC for believing in us and taking the time to help us take these steps toward a new chapter for our community.”

Widder said JDC’s regional perspective — along with its multi-country leadership programs and professional networks — helps to advance the conversation in important ways.

“We’re not their parents — these are grown-up communities. What’s relevant for us then is how they make their decisions, that they own and are comfortable with them, and that these choices help to fuel continuity and growth,” he said. “What JDC is accountable for at the end of the day is drawing the roadmap together, and then if they want, we can accompany them in terms of monitoring moving forward.”

Across the Atlantic Ocean, JDC is also engaged in partnering with communities to help them address emerging challenges and plan for the future — endeavors that fall under the umbrella of “building community resilience,” said David Gidron, the expert who heads up these efforts in Europe.

In recent years, the organization has worked with communities like Leeds, Riga, and Athens, and during the Ukraine crisis, the Zentralat — the Central Council of Jews in Germany — has relied on JDC developed community assessment tools to guide the process of integrating refugees.

“Resilient communities are able to function and serve their members in times of challenges and crisis, as well as calm,” Gidron said. “Through ongoing relationships with communities, conducting joint mapping on their core competencies, understanding their needs and their strengths, as well as training and capacity building, JDC accompanies communities across Europe on their ongoing journey to becoming more resilient.”

For Widder, it all comes down to showing up for communities continuously — not only at inflection points.

“We want to make sure they can see JDC not only as the 9-1-1 of the Jewish world, but also as an ongoing partner,” he said. “Our added value is that we don’t have to start from scratch every time.”

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