Young Argentines here see difficult, uncertain future

Diego Gorodisch has decided to change careers. He used to work as an economic consultant. Now he's gone into business producing flour. If he's lucky, the 23-year-old Jewish resident of Buenos Aires might be able to obtain a patent for an automotive part.

"We don't have any credit. There are no loans from banks; they're not giving any money to start a business. People are upset. They've almost finished their studies and they can't do anything," said Gorodisch, one of 16 young Argentine Jews who traveled to the Bay Area last week in an exchange program between Hillel Argentina and Silicon Valley Hillel.

"Most people our age, they are very sad. They can't do what they want to do and they are thinking of leaving the country and working abroad or studying something. It is very hard to be successful in our situation."

The Hillel students toured the Bay Area, meeting a number of Silicon Valley executives. Gorodish and fellow Argentine Jews Vanina Sandel and Iaron "Ron" Burd took time out Friday to drop by the Bulletin.

In a nation where, as Sandel put it, a university degree has become "like a passport to leave the country," the three twentysomethings are split on their futures in Argentina.

Burd, a tall, Israeli-born redhead counts himself lucky to have landed a software engineering job right out of college. The 25-year-old earns the princely sum of $300 a month in Buenos Aires — a figure that elicited much gawking and good-natured jealousy from Sandel and Gorodisch — but hopes to earn an advanced degree or job in the United States

Unable to find an employer, Sandel recently started her own Buenos Aires business creating Web pages and information systems. She doesn't see herself leaving her home country, but, then again, she can't rule it out.

"I see my parents who have been working their entire lives. You know, the savings accounts are frozen. You are working your entire life and one day you cannot retire with what you've saved," said the 24-year-old.

Argentina "is home [but] it's very difficult to consider a nice or safe place to live. But on the other hand, I started my company there. I have faith," she said. "Things must change."

Of the three, Gorodisch is the only one ada-mantly opposed to leaving his homeland.

"I really want to live in Argentina," he said. "My options are Argentina and Argentina."

With so many Argentine Jews leaving the country — last year 6,500 of the nation's 200,000 Jews immigrated to Israel alone, and another 6,500 will probably go this year — the students were uncertain of what the future will hold for the nation's Jews. And while they may leave for a while, all three wanted to spend their lives as Argentineans.

"A lot of my friends want to leave Argentina, like myself. Since this is a real small community, I think that is dangerous. I want to see a Jewish community like the one I grew up in," said Burd, who spent most of his life in the tiny Jewish community of the city of Mendoza.

"If I still live in Argentina, I want to see that community is still there. I want to grow my children there, to take them to the high school where I went, to go swim in the pool with other Jewish kids."

However, Sandel, who was educated from preschool through high school in Jewish institutions, notes that economic shortcomings have caused many synagogues and schools to consolidate.

The three agreed that conditions will improve for the Jews of Argentina when they improve for the country at large. Argentina lacks a forceful, charismatic politician such as Brazil's Lula, and such a figure may emerge in the future.

And, while the past few years have not been good times, all three students note that hard times have brought Jews closer together.

"Fridays I attend synagogue, and each time more people come. Not only to pray, but they need a place to be together, to fight for the same cause," said Sandel.

"We will survive this crisis."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.