Empowering Women Across Latin America to Transform Their Communities

October 3, 2017


The director of Jewish studies at the Beth Jewish day school in Buenos Aires, Valeria Judith (Iehudith) Nahmías was one of 30 Jewish women from seven Latin American countries who came together in her native city in April to network with peers, forge cross-border connections, and acquire new tools for activating women in
their home communities.

“I welcome the chance to embrace an idea, an initiative, another viewpoint,” Nahmías said.

Called “Women and Community Involvement: New Challenges,” the three-day conference she attended was organized by JDC in partnership with CLAM, the Latin American Maccabi Confederation, and with the participation of seven other local organizations.

The gathering zoomed in on issues of  leadership, gender, Jewish values, community development, and communities at risk, with the overarching goal of empowering Jewish women to play increasingly major roles in Latin America’s Jewish communities and organizations.

“Only by participating, caring,

and being part of something together

can we grow stronger.

As a key convener of the diverse range of such organizations, JDC was uniquely positioned to set the meeting’s agenda and to bring its power of innovation to bear on issues that sometimes go unexamined in the region’s local communities.

Hailing from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, the women visited local Jewish institutions, especially LeDor VaDor, the flourishing senior home and multigenerational facility JDC helped the Buenos Aires community plan and develop soon after Argentina’s 2001-02 financial implosion.

Participants were especially inspired by the gathering’s open forums, where they were invited to share the most spectacular leadership experience they ever had and to discuss new models for communal life.

“The group or institutional space offers you a wide range of possibilities that one doesn’t have alone,” said Diana Wang, president of Shoah Generations in Argentina and a conference speaker. “But it also offers limitations.”

So creating an open space, like an informal coffee gathering, “invites us to talk, (it’s) a starting point to talk just about things that matter to us,” a younger participant explained.

A lawyer as well as an educator, Nahmías was impressed by the gathering’s focus on “different prototypes and perspectives.”

“We all exchanged ideas, experiences, know-how—and we also projected actions, collaboratively, that would help us succeed in handling the dilemmas that Latin American organizations have to deal with,” she said. “All the professionals were really motivated … trying to figure out ways to replicate successful experiences in their communities.”

Other participants echoed her thoughts, welcoming the opportunity to interact with people who have other ways of thinking and discover ideas they can implement upon their return home.

In the months since the conference, Nahmías has shared course content and other educational materials with local and regional organizations, especially with a contemporary from Brazil she met during the confab.

That spirit of camaraderie was key, she explained.“I was really moved by the atmosphere. We all enjoyed a very meaningful and enlightening Shabbat dinner,” she said.

The gathering has also had personal ramifications for Nahmías, impacting the way she will participate, from now on, in her local congregation.

“I have been a member of Lamroth Hakol (a Conservative synagogue on the northern outskirts of Buenos Aires) for more than 16 years,” she said. “This meeting encouraged me to become a lay leader, promoting different actions, ideas, and projects, because only by participating, caring, and being part of something, all of us together—professionals, volunteers, members, and board members—can we grow stronger… and become a model for ourselves as well as for other organizations.”

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