Global Jewish Reflections | In Argentina, Reflecting on Purim, Tzedakah, and Jewish Community Life

For Purim, Julio Gutkind reflects on the importance of Jewish life and institutions in Santa Fe, Argentina.

By Julio Gutkind - Community Leader; Santa Fe, Argentina | March 7, 2022

Julio Gutkind (third from left) has dedicated his life to strengthening Jewish community in Santa Fe, Argentina.

Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the spiritual wisdom of rabbis, Jewish educators, and others from around the JDC world.

A lifelong resident of Santa Fe, Argentina, Julio Gutkind has stood by his Jewish community through every joy and hardship. As head of the JDC-supported Kidum program, Gutkind now focuses on strengthening his community’s Jewish institutions and promoting self-sustainability. As Purim approaches, Gutkind reflects on how the values behind the holiday intersect with his powerful community work.

Purim teaches us the importance of tzedakah (charity) — helping those in your community, as well as those you’ll never meet. And when I think about my community, I also think about this value — how, through natural disasters, economic crises, and the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve always helped each other, powered by our commitment to Jewish life.

I have lived in Santa Fe — Argentina’s ninth-largest city — my entire life, and since early childhood, I’ve been a part of its Jewish tapestry. I was two years old when I went to Jewish kindergarten. Later, I played sports at the Macabi Jewish Community Center (JCC), and in high school, I attended Hebrew class late at night. 

In short, I was raised in these Jewish institutions, and they’ve always mattered to me — they are the centers of our Jewish life, where people can learn and celebrate, as well as give and receive help. 

Though my community has always been a supportive, vibrant place, we haven’t always had the strongest institutions. When I was younger, there were fewer spaces dedicated to Jewish life, and not as many children attended Hebrew school or synagogue. As I got older, I wondered what I could do to help my community grow. 

That’s when I reached out to JDC. 

I visited their Buenos Aires office and explained my community’s needs, and in 2018, we launched Kidum, a JDC initiative that aims to develop and strengthen the institutional capacities necessary to grow our community. Kidum’s ultimate goal for Santa Fe — and the 13 other communities it serves — is self-sustainability, to teach us how to lead ourselves and develop a long-term vision for what we want. 

Through Kidum, I’ve learned practical skills, like resource management, fundraising, and capacity-building. But I’ve also had the chance to learn from larger communities, as well as help guide smaller communities that may have fewer resources than we do. 

Julio Gutkind

Kidum is just one of the many exciting programs we’re proud to be pioneering. With JDC’s help, we’ve also been able to grow and develop the same Macabi JCC I attended as a child, which is still a hub for Jewish life in Santa Fe. At the Macabi JCC, community members can enjoy a wide array of activities, like youth clubs, classes, and sports — and it’s also a huge resource for the vulnerable. 

The ultimate purpose of Kidum, Macabi JCC, and all of Santa Fe’s Jewish institutions is to help people live dignified, Jewish lives. That can mean all sorts of things for all sorts of people — attending a youth club meeting, celebrating Shabbat, or receiving the essentials they need to make ends meet. 

For a long time, JDC has helped us achieve this goal. In 2001, when a financial crisis devastated our economy and left many without a safety net, we turned to JDC for food, clothing, and other necessities. And in 2003, when a flood completely submerged our community, JDC was there, too, helping us rebuild. 

The pandemic has been our most recent challenge. At first, none of us left our homes, and all our activities and programs — sports, classes, ceremonies, etc. — had to be moved to Zoom. Online, we were actually able to reach more people in Jewish life and help more people, too. 

JDC shows us how to become a self-sustaining community on our own terms.

JDC was there the entire time, helping us adjust to this strange new world. One thing I love about JDC is that they don’t do anything for us. They listen to us and show us how to become a self-sustaining community on our own terms — free and independent. They teach us how to carry out a vision that speaks to our unique needs, whether that’s three years, five years, or ten years in the future.

I know that this future will be bright: My community is always there to support each other, with solidarity and hope. As Jews, we all have to help each other — no matter where we live, no matter who we are, no matter what we think. 

And it is this tzedakah — the Jewish value that Purim instills in us — that guides my work here in Santa Fe, and our transformative partnership with JDC. 

A lifelong resident of Santa Fe, Argentina, Julio Gutkind, 52, is a board member of the Santa Fe Jewish community as well as a board member of the Macabi JCC.

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