In Buenos Aires, Jewish Life Full Circle

by Fernando Rubin

When I was 10 years old, I used to celebrate Kabbalat Shabbat with my youth group at Hebraica, which was and is one of the largest JCCs in Buenos Aires. During the late 1970’s, at the time of the military dictatorship in Argentina, Hebraica was one of the few havens for open thought and free speech not only for Jews but also for other cultural and artistic communities. At these gatherings in the semi-darkness, our madrich (youth leader) lit the candles and asked each group member to share with the others the best thing which had happened to him or her during that week, and to express a wish for the next. Then, each of us opened and offered the bag of food we had brought to share, and we began to eat and talk all together, in an atmosphere full of friendship and community and feelings of spiritual belonging.

At the present time, those brief moments of reflection in that dim room bring to the surface the most rewarding and heartfelt memories of my life. To me, during my youth, to be a Jew meant to participate in a Jewish youth group, to celebrate Kabbalat Shabbat and to spend Jewish holidays with my family.

As a teenager I kept going and enjoying the youth groups and I trained at Hebraica’s madrichim school (where I met my future wife), with the aim of transmitting to others my own early experiences. So first I became a madrich, then a teacher in the madrichim school, and finally I joined Leatid’s course for Community Organizational Directors. Leatid is an educational institution of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Latin América, which trains Jewish professional and volunteer community leaders.

With the knowledge I gained at Leatid, I knew that I was committing myself to maintaining and recreating Jewish life in the long term. I also felt that I was setting up my career path. But its only today that I realize that this whole educational experience lent itself to the notion of becoming a better leader. For instance, many of the subjects I learned at Leatid – strategy development and planning, setting of 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 business man.

I always knew that I wanted to be a madrich of sorts both inside and outside of the Jewish community. Leatid contributed to that development, including my role directing activities for youth and adults at Hebraica; becoming an organizational consultant for JDC a short time later; and then while pursuing a degree in Psychology. Eventually, I worked simultaneously in national and international Jewish communities and with patients as a psychoanalyst.

As time passed, I realized that the group dynamic I had in the Jewish community demonstrated the value of holistic institutional change, and I started to work as an HR professional in a variety of companies. Among other things, I tried to apply my experiences as a Jewish leader, community director, and consultant to the business environment. I realized that my training in group activities, my work with lay leaders, and coordinating executive committees helped me to interact with business boards. Amazingly, what frightened others in relation to the management and supervision was enjoyable to me, and my expertise showed. Realizing this potential, I devoted myself completely to a career in human resources management.

And eventually I went back to work with the Jewish community, this time as a volunteer: first at Hebraica focusing mainly in youth issues, and later on, at different institutions. I participated in the group that launched Limmud in Argentina, which I chair at present time. I also went back to Leatid, not as a professional but as its President, and also as a participant in different training courses for community leaders.

Regarding my career, I am the general manager of a bank, which would have been unimaginable when I started my studies in psychology! But what I always knew was that I would be a madrich my whole life, and that Judaism, because of his history and set of values, has much to contribute not only to our community, but to society at large.

Today, I am married, with two beautiful children and happily living in a democratic Argentina. I always make sure to share the special training I received earlier in my life with both the Jewish institutions and the companies I work with. It influences every undertaking I engage in, lending an air of belonging and collective responsibility and the desire for a better world. And it all began when I was a 10-year-old child, in the light of glowing Shabbat candles, with my young community around me.

Fernando Rubin is the president of Limmud Argentina and a lifelong member of the Buenos Aires Jewish community.

Fernando’s story, and his connection to the Jewish world, is just one of many we are bringing you this year.