For Argentine friends, its the last seder together

BUENOS AIRES — There is a group of six close friends here in their early 30s who have been sharing lifecycle events for more than half of their lives.

Some met in high school, others while kicking soccer balls in the streets of the quiet Villa Devoto neighborhood.

For the past six years, they have shared the second Passover seder together, along with their wives and children.

But this year's seder — with 12 grown-ups and 12 children — will be the last for the group.

After last December's riots in Argentina and the social, political and economic changes that followed, four of the six couples are planning to emigrate soon.

Fernanda and Jose — a marketing employee and a lawyer, respectively — will move to Mexico in December.

Claudia, an English teacher, and her husband, Luis, a lawyer, are moving to California sometime later this year.

Laura and Samuel, both lawyers, have decided to emigrate but don't yet know where.

Cynthia and Alberto Epelman and their two daughters will try to start over next September in Miami.

"My husband's sister already lives in Miami. We have friends there, and more friends planning to go. For my work as an employee at an online auction company, I often go to Miami," Cynthia Epelman said. "Despite all the uncertainties implied in emigrating, the place is kind of familiar to me."

Cynthia might be able to continue working for her company from Miami. Her husband, an electrician, will have to find a new job.

The economic uncertainty has resulted in financial struggles for many Argentines, including many of the country's 200,000 Jews. But both of the Epelmans are still working, and Cynthia admits their decision is not really driven by economic factors.

"For a couple of years I have been thinking that the future for my daughters was not here. But on Dec. 20" — when the riots began that led to the downfall of President Fernando de la Rua — "my husband looked at me and said, 'It's over,'" Cynthia Epelman said. "I'm afraid about the economic perspective. But it's also a relief for me to go because of the social conditions."

Her fear began when her family was robbed at a restaurant last year.

"Nothing happened to us, but Julieta, the oldest daughter, was with us, and we were very scared," Cynthia said.

"I know it is complicated to start again. But I am good at adapting," said Cynthia, a blond woman with big green eyes.

Tears flow and all Cynthia's strength seems to ebb away when she recalls the Passovers she has spent in Argentina, first at her grandmother's house and now with her circle of longtime friends.

"We grew up together, and it always felt very important to me to share the seder with this group," Cynthia said. "I am sure I will meet new friends in Miami, but there is something irreplaceable here."

As he has every year, Luis will give out yarmulkes and read from the Haggadah. The table will be adorned with seder plates and candles.

Someone — it alternates each year — will tell the children about the Exodus from Egypt. Later they'll all search for the afikomen.

As usual, Fernanda will bring gefilte fish, Cynthia will make knishes, and their friend Diana will bring apple and honey pie.

"There will be a table full of sweets to keep the children awake waiting for desert," Cynthia said.

One thing makes Cynthia happy: The group has promised to reunite somewhere in the United States next September for Yom Kippur.

Yet that plan assumes a variety of factors: that the peso devaluation doesn't make air tickets too expensive to afford, that all the friends meet the new U.S. visa requirements for Argentine citizens, and that the friends have jobs that pay them enough to travel.

"We want to believe we're going to meet up for sure," Cynthia said. "But deep inside, we know it is mainly a wish."