Since Lubavitch International last reported on the establishment of the Argentine Relief Commission last February, the crisis has not abated. “The situation unfortunately continues to deteriorate, as more and more people are losing their jobs,” says Rabbi Tzvi Gruenblatt, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch in Argentina, one of the largest Jewish humanitarian aid providers in the country. “As of April 2002 we have been sustaining 1,564 families with their comprehensive, basic needs including food staples, housing, and medical services,” he says.
Rabbi Gruenblatt and Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky of Lubavitch World Headquarters have established the Argentine Relief Commission for this purpose. “Thus far,” says Rabbi Krinsky, “the response has been good-but the need is great. The funds received do not even cover the basic necessities.”
To make matters worse, the status of Jewish children who lived in borderline conditions has been seriously aggravated by the crisis. Chabad-Lubavitch’s Yeladenu program is the country’s only Jewish foster care facility. Yeladenu now provides for more than 100 children, with another 305 on a waiting list. “We are simply waiting for funds to enable us to care for these children.”
According to social services statistics, since the country’s economy has fallen there has been a 40% rise in cases of children at risk of abandonment and abuse within the Jewish community alone. With the help of the Yitzkor Corcias Fundacion Internacional, a charitable foundation based in Europe, Chabad has expanded its Yeladenu program with the opening of two more facilities. “The Corcias Fundacion has been a steady source of financial support making it possible for us to expand our services so that we do not turn a single Jewish child away,” notes Rabbi Gruenblatt.
There is a real concern about the risk of losing Jewish children in this crisis. Brazilian real estate developer and Jewish philanthropist, Mr. Eli Horn, says it is imperative that the Jewish community appreciates the gravity of this risk. “If we do not reach to a Jewish child in need, we are in effect, turning them away at a time when they are most vulnerable. There is no knowing where this child may later end up, spiritually, as a result of this.”
Many of Argentina’s Jewish philanthropists have been hit hard in this crisis. Still, there is a valiant effort on the part of some to put their skills and resources to work to make a marked difference. Eduardo Elsztain, Chairman and CEO of IRSA, an Argentinian real-estate company with holdings that are publicly traded, is involved in the Yeladenu program says, “This is a time where our stamina and values are tested. We are all hurting; but we must choose to turn all our efforts to help our people.” Mr. Elsztain, a long-time supporter of the work of Chabad-Lubavitch in Argentina, who has become personally involved in helping Chabad-Lubavitch’s children’s relief efforts.
The Joint Distribution Committee, in conjunction with the Tzedaka Foundation, has recently allied itself with Chabad-Lubavitch in Argentina and will contribute to meet 20% of the demands in food packages and medicines provided by Chabad-Lubavitch through its 14 centers in Buenos Aires and cities of the provinces.
With the worsening crisis, many Jewish families have left Argentina altogether. Most often, those families leaving were vital members of the community, and their emigration is perceived as a loss to the community. “Their decision to leave is understandable, but we do feel the impact,” says Gruenblatt.
Still, even with the most liberal estimates of emigration, Argentina’s Jewish population will remain at around 180,000. With the continued help and support of the Jewish community in the United States, Argentina’s Jewish community expects to ride this crisis out. “We are living with hope and gratitude for all the help that is forthcoming,” he says, pointing out gratefully that various private and community funds in the United States have been responsive to the call to participate in these vital relief efforts.
“With every response of help, we are strengthened and feel very encouraged,” says Rabbi Gruenblatt. He describes the contribution of one anonymous donor in Europe, who provided crucial assistance for Chabad-Lubavitch’s food relief program. “We don’t know who this donor is, yet his assistance has proved to be of critical significance in feeding so many Jewish people.”
The average cost for a family of three, including shelter, utilities, food and medicines is $240 monthly. Contributions may be made to the Argentine Relief Commission, Machne Israel-Lubavitch at (718) 774-4000, or via the internet at www.lubavitch.com, or mailed to 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213 . . .”