Student returns from goodwill mission to Argentina

School had ended for the year and Ali Fernbach had a bit of free time before her summer job started at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center. So the Los Altos Hills resident decided to spend 10 days in Buenos Aires.

Fernbach, 19, who just completed her freshman year at Emory University, was one of 20 college students to return recently from a social-justice mission to Argentina.

She saw the trip advertised on her campus Hillel Web site and decided to go.

Most of the trip was spent in Buenos Aires. At the Wolfsohn School, the students joined their Argentinean counterparts to paint and clean the Jewish day school. And at the Arlene Fern School, another Jewish day school, the American and Canadian visitors found students who already knew English ready to receive them.

"The students speak Spanish in morning and English in afternoon, so I was in a group of fifth-graders, and they all spoke English," said Fernbach. She was especially impressed to sit in on a history lesson about the Six-Day-War, a lesson taught entirely in English.

Fernbach said they did not interact with the poorest members of the Jewish community, but rather with middle-class citizens badly impacted by the economic crisis.

At the Chavura social action center, Fernbach saw these people "who were hit by the crisis and still need resources, but were also able to give back by serving lunch to the needy. They didn't lose their dignity."

Overall, she was impressed by the fact that "there was this economic crisis but everyone is still trying to be helpful and all working together to move past it. They weren't sitting around on their butts; they were still trying to be supportive of each other."

The trip was sponsored by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations college education department, a grant from David Heller and the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."