For an incredible week, 17 UD students and I participated in service projects aiding both the Jewish community and the broader Argentine community in Buenos Aires. Throughout the week we were challenged with questions regarding our Jewish identities, purpose, and responsibilities. One question in particular, “to whom are we obligated?” stands out to me as I reflect on the experience.
After flying across the globe, traveling over 12 hours, to participate in service projects for a community of people we had never met before, you would think that we must feel a sense of obligation toward the community. Did we feel obligated to this community? While everyone has their own reasons and perspectives, what I found, is that while I did feel an obligation to serve, I did not necessarily feel obligated to this particular community. So why was I there?
I was there because I have come to know that encountering, serving, and ultimately learning from other communities, refreshes my perspective on my own. Speaking to the Rabbi at NCI Emmanuel, a large synagogue in the heart of the city, about their many initiatives including a daily soup kitchen, free early childhood education, a free program for handicapped adults, and much more, I was inspired by how motivated, hard working, and active the Buenos Aires Jewish Community was in the service of others. I left thinking about myself and my own community, wondering, am I doing enough? Are we doing enough?
As a Jew, I have always cherished my own community, and been in awe of the power a strong community wields. The sense of collective love, support and belonging that community has to offer is something special to be conserved and strengthened. But how? What is the glue that holds us together?
My answer to this question became a bit clearer on our third day in Buenos Aires, when we spent the afternoon volunteering at a Tzedek-run consignment shop. Our task for that project was to sift through heaping piles of donated clothes and sort them into four categories: Ropa de Las Mujeres, Ropa de Los Hombres, Ropa de Los Ninos, and Redonar (clothing of women, men, children and to redonate). Despite it being a hot day in a small, dusty, crowded store, when I looked up at my group mates, I didn’t see long faces or hear complaints; I saw us working together as a team quickly, efficiently and enthusiastically, with smiles on our faces. The spirit and connection I felt with the group at that moment reminded me of how people are brought together in the service of others. How, when working towards a greater goal, united in purpose, we can achieve amazing things. We can affect change.
Elana Metz is from Wilmington, Delaware. She is currently a Junior at UD studying International Relations with minors in Sociology and Islamic Studies. She is a Campus Entrepreneur Initiative (CEI) Intern at Hillel and she is also involved in the Down to Earth Food Cooperative.