I recently participated as one of 20 Canadians in a three-day special plenary of the World Jewish Congress in Argentina. And it happened completely by chance – or was it by design?
This was my fifth trip to Argentina. My mother-in-law is a Holocaust survivor whose uncle left Europe for Argentina before the Second World War. He eventually brought his wife and five children there. Five generations later, there are more than 50 family members in the country. Today, Argentina boasts the fourth largest Jewish population in the world and the largest in South America.
Before the trip, I had a chance meeting with Tamara Fathi, a former Federation Board member. Tamara is now Ottawa’s representative for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Young Leadership Israel Advocacy program. Tamara was selected as one of 10 young leaders to attend the plenary in Buenos Aires. Once I realized the event was being held during my planned visit, I knew I couldn’t ignore this wonderful coincidence. With CIJA’s help, I participated as an observer and joined Tamara and Federations’ CIJA representative Jonathan Freedman.
CIJA is the Canadian arm of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), which was founded in 1936 in Geneva, and is the representative body of Jewish communities in more than 100 countries. WJC works with foreign governments and international agencies to safeguard Jewish security; combat anti-Semitism; support Israel; advocate on issues of human rights; and promote and enhance interfaith relations. They are like our Jewish “foreign ministry.” And who better to serve as their president than Ronald Lauder? Lauder is chair emeritus of the Estée Lauder group of companies and the former U.S. ambassador to Austria. You may also know him as the art collector who ultimately bought the famous “Woman in Gold” painting by Gustav Klimt that had been stolen by the Nazis.
During the plenary, there were 240 delegates from 67 countries divided into groups. It was incredible to see and hear Jewish people from all over the globe addressing topics such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, international terrorism and much more.
Among the highlights was the dinner honouring newly elected Argentine President Mauricio Macri. Macri addressed the consequences of tragic Buenos Aires bombings of the Israeli Embassy in 1992, a blast that killed 29, and the 1994 car bombing of the AMIA Jewish centre, which killed 85 and stands as the worst terrorist attack in Argentina’s history. He reiterated his commitment to re-establish ties with Israel, shown by his recent meeting with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.
Another highlight was the tribute to Jewish prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was found dead under mysterious circumstances in his Buenos Aires home. Nisman was the chief prosecutor of the AMIA bombing. I urge you to watch a short video telling his story, “One Year Without Alberto Nisman,” at http://tinyurl.com/gvlwklg.
I feel my trip and the plenary were designed to work together for me to be able to share my experiences with our community. I am left with a strong sense of optimism for our global Jewish future. There is a beautiful solidarity among Jewish communities worldwide. As we all get set to celebrate Pesach, the festival of our freedom, I know more than ever that the work the Federation does to help Jews in Ottawa and around the globe is part of this design.
Chag Pesach Sameach!