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A Reason to Hope

By , BUENOS AIRES, AGRENTINA

Here in the slums, among the open sewers and crime-ridden streets, young children amuse themselves, fashioning castles out of uncollected garbage heaps. This is where they play, dream, and sometimes, they even die in this landscape of hopeless desperation.

Many of Argentina’s 200,000 Jews are among the statistics of this country’s impoverished, compounded further by a shattered economy. Often it is no more than a few routines of civilized life—a hot meal, a couple of hours in a cheerful, danger-free zone—that go a very long way to opening a ray of optimism in an otherwise bleak existence.

That’s what the new Morasha program, established this past June, holds out for Jewish children trapped in the slums, alienated from Jewish life, community and tradition. Several times a week, the children are delivered to any one of seven Morasha centers citywide, where they enjoy cooked meals, stimulating classes in Jewish history, tradition and Hebrew. English language courses taught in conjunction with the world-famous Berlitz school, gives these children the edge they will need once they are old enough to seek employment. And with extracurricular activities that include sports games, dance, and professional chess, the children are exploring constructive outlets while developing their own skills and talents that will hopefully buy their way out of the slums.

Thanks to the backing by philanthropists Eli Horn of Brazil and Eduardo Elsztain of Argentina, the Morasha program, a joint effort of Chabad and the local Sefardic community, has already affected the lives of over 600 children and their families. Their goal is to reach 1,000 children by this December, with plans for reaching an additional one thousand children in the areas surrounding Buenos Aires.

According to Miriam Kapelushnik, director of Morasha, it’s not only children from the slums who are benefiting from the program. Many of Argentina’s Jewish families who were financially secure before the crisis, have absorbed a lot of the economic devastation. Left without the means to send their children to private Jewish schools or pay dues to the local Jewish community centers, “they too, were becoming alienated from the Jewish community and Judaism itself,” she says.

“We saw the need to reengage these families, particularly the children, in Jewish activity, and that inspired the founding of Morasha,” says Rabbi Tzvi Gruenblatt, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Argentina.

Pablo Eisik, 16, loves every minute of the six hours weekly he spends with Morasha. “The situation here in Argentina is very difficult and that Chabad could think up an idea such as this one is incredible,” says his mother. “I would’ve never thought it possible. The children are learning, they are spending time with other Jewish children, and they are so very happy.”

Reported by S. Olidort

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