4 April 2016
I am happy to report that my first official WIZO mission was to Argentina to participate in the Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) that took place in Buenos Aires (March 15-18), and as a guest of OSFA-WIZO Argentina. It was exciting, exhilarating, gratifying and knowledgeable. It enabled me to develop a strong relationship with its very warm and welcoming leadership.
The meeting with the WJC representatives from all over the world was both an amazing and humbling experience. I was pleasantly surprised by the personal welcome from WJC President Ronald Lauder, the respect and warmth I received from WJC Executives and delegates, and the high esteem in which WIZO, one of the 13 international Jewish organizations accredited to the WJC, is held.
WIZO was very well represented - the Delegation of the American Section of the WJC had six WIZO delegates, headed by Evelyn Sommer (Co-Founding President WIZO USA) Chair of the North American Section of the WJC, Joan Kahn, Mireille Manocherian, Lisa Ohebshalom, Roxana Tatenbaum and Michael Kahn. Jana and Simon Falic attended the luncheon given by Ronald Lauder in honor of President Cartes of Paraguay.
The Delegation of OSFA-WIZO Argentina included Nicole Kovalivker - Federation President, Clara Broide - Federation Chairperson, Amalia Pollack - Past President, and Alicia Barmaimon, From the moment I arrived in Buenos Aires, our OSFA-WIZO chaverot never left my side, making me feel at ease and at home.
Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, who also attended the plenary, expressed his interest to cooperate with WIZO in our daycare centers, and in his capacity as minister of diaspora affairs - in our Jewish education programs. Shai Hermesh, Chair of the Israel Section of the WJC, thanked Joan Kahn for her support of WIZO Nir HaEmek that hosted members of Kibbutz Kfar Aza during Operation Protective Edge. A very emotional moment was when WJC President Ronald Lauder pledged $100,000.00 for the maintenance of the David Kahn Sports Complex at WIZO Nir Haemek.
But back to the plenary, on Tuesday (15 March). I chose to attend the Latin America Jewish Congress Caucus in order to learn more about what is happening in that part of the world.
Ronald Lauder summarized the activities the WJC is carrying out in Europe and the United States. He asked the delegates present to help him understand and to come up with a plan of action for South America. He thanked the Young Jewish Diplomatic Corp and stressed the importance of younger generations and their integration into WJC activity. They returned the sentiment by presenting him with a tenth anniversary gift.
In the evening there was a gala dinner attended by 450 delegates and guests including many South American leaders: the President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, the President of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, the Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs of Israel, Naftali Bennett, Israel Ambassador to Argentina Dorit Shavit, ambassadors and local dignitaries including Rabbi Sergio Bergman the Minister of Environment - whose synagogue I visited Friday night. The conservative synagogue is very old and beautifully preserved. It is located next to a Jewish Museum that Nicole Kovalivker, President WIZO OSFA is closely associated with. Claudio Abru – the Secretary of Human Rights is also the Chairperson of the Holocaust Museum.
H.E. President Mauricio Macri of Argentina spoke about how he sees the Jewish people as an important part of Argentinian society. He also spoke of his commitment to bring the parties responsible for the Israeli embassy bombing in Buenos Aires in 1992, the AMIA bombing in 1994 and the killing of Alberto Nisman the investigating prosecutor, to justice.
President of Paraguay, H.E. Mr. Horacio Cartes was awarded the Shalom Award for his fight for peace He spoke of his affection and respect for the Jewish people that derives from a personal experience he had, "At a point in my life, one of hardship, a man took me in and helped me in my life. He has earned my love and gratitude. The man's name was Marco Messer. He is my second father and he taught me to recognize and value the Jewish people." The president continued and stated several parallels between Israel and Paraguay's history and the fact that both countries are united by principles of respect for human rights.
On Wednesday (16 March) the Joint Session of the WJC Plenary and the WJC Executive Committee took place. It was a day for formal WJC business.
Mr Jack Terpins, the President of the Latin American Jewish Congress welcomed everyone, President Ambassador Ronald Lauder took to the stage.
He is an extraordinary man and a remarkable speaker. His love for the Jewish people and Israel are evident in his every word and action. He thanked everyone for their vote of confidence in his presidency and his readiness to serve a third successive term if allowed. He raised his concerns regarding the BDS movement being used to put political pressure to achieve their goals and to destroy Israel; BDS exposure on college campuses that has yet to be combatted and the younger generation need tools to combat it; intermarriage leading to a decrease in the Jewish population throughout the world; the UN and its double standards - it has become a cesspool of anti-Semitism. Israel is attacked on how it treats women and with regards to crimes that should apply to Syria for instance, but does not.
WJC President Ronald Lauder uses his good contacts and connections to represent the WJC and defend the Jewish people and Israel in very possible arena in the world. Wherever there is a problem – he is there He is received by kings, world leaders, and has met the Pope on numerous occasions. He has been successful in changing opinions, views and subsequent actions.
Lauder said, "We are not the Jews of 1930 – we have great power. We are the envy of the world. It is our job to discover the flame we all have and to keep it burning with regards to our Jewish identity. My Jewish flame is still lit. We stand here today on the shoulders of giants, stand with me and do not let this flame go out".
Shella Safra, WJC Treasurer and, Robert Goot WJC Credentials Commission delivered their reports.
Other formal business included ratification of amendments to the WJC Constitution proposed by the 14th WJC Plenary Assembly, meeting in Budapest on 6 May 2013; discussion and a vote, pursuant to article 9.i. of the WJC Constitution, to allow the President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, to serve for a third successive term at the 15th (regular session of the) WJC Plenary Assembly – the vote was unanimous.
Before lunch WJC CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer delivered an update on WJC activities reiterating that the WJC has had the same goals for the past 80 years - protecting the Jewish People andsince 1948 safeguarding Israel; the WJC is now proactive rather than reactive in dealing with the challenges facing the Jewish World: Jews leaving Europe in record numbers; terrorism within Israel and around the world, the radical left delegitimizing Israel (BDS).
Singer reported that the WJC was more efficient, dynamic and powerful - opening more offices around the world, modernizing online presence and social media. He praised the joint work carried out and the integration of the younger generations.
In the afternoon the Israel Council on Foreign Relations Session took place.
Mr. Adalberto Rodriguez Giavarini, President of the Argentinian Council of Foreign Relations spoke about honoring the victims of the 1992 Israeli embassy bombing and the 1994 AMIA bombing and expressed his gratitude to the Jewish people for their contributions to Argentina that has the 3rd largest Jewish community outside of Israel. He praised President Macri for his policy to repeal the memorandum of understanding with Iran and encourage interfaith dialogue that helps bring down barriers.
He acknowledged the right of Israel to exist and reviewed the chaotic situation in our region adding that there is now a regional cold war. Saudi Arabia and gulf countries against Iran. "Israel has hosted Argentinian immigrants for a very long time. It's a democracy and how it works makes it unique in its area. Attacks against Israelis should be condemned in the political arena. Argentina does not support BDS and condemns such behaviors……may the lord strengthen your people and bless you with peace."
Ambassador Colette Avital, Israel Council on Foreign Relations Board Member and WJC Israel Board Member talked of how misleading the media is in regard to how Israel is perceived and its effect on Israel's foreign relationships.
Phillip Assouline, an attorney from California who advises on BDS feels it is time to start thinking about marketing and propaganda and finding a new approach that appeals to the younger generation.
Mrs. Evelyn Sommer, WJC North American Chair (Co-Founding President of WIZO USA), introduced Mr. Luis Almagro Lemes, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, which represents 35 countries. He spoke about the necessity to combat challenges such as intolerance, bigotry, social gaps, corruption, violations of human rights, inequality of women, unemployment, poverty and child labor.
I take this opportunity to say a big thank you to Evelyn for her support at my first major WJC gathering. Evelyn introduced me, helped me put names to faces and better understand the WJC.
Mr. Naftali Bennett, Israeli Minister of Education and Minister of the Diaspora, spoke of a strong Israel and a strong diaspora, achieved by strengthening Jewish identity and pride and its binding connection to Israel. "We have to continue teaching Jewish values at different levels of society and in our educational system".
Mr. Omar Abboud, a member of the parliament of Buenos Aires and head of the Muslim community in Argentina called for inter-religious dialogue, stating that fundamentalism cannot be generalized with Islam. He added that bombings attacked society as a whole and not just the Jewish community. He believes that dialogue between Jews and Muslims is paramount.
Argentinian Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra (in striped jacket) appeared at the closing session. She values having the WJC in Argentina and the integral role the Jewish community plays in Argentina.
She spoke of a polarized black or white/with me or against me world and how the Argentinians believe in tolerance and building stronger dialogue, being responsible citizens of the world, working hard to be transformational and to change the mindset. She said that, "Argentina recognizes Israel as a state and deeply recognizes the Holocaust".
In the evening there was a dinner and a tango performance. The dancers were magnificent and I finally had the opportunity to sit with both the OSFA and USA delegations.
Thursday (17 March) was dedicated to tributes at sites of terrorist attacks.
Like other countries, Argentina has been the victim of International Terrorism. On 17 March 1992 a suicide bombing attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires left 29 civilians dead and 242 injured. On July 18, 1994, an attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA; Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) building, left 85 people dead and hundreds injured. It was Argentina's deadliest bombing ever.
The dates of the WJC Plenary in Buenos Aires were chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the suicide bombing, of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992.
We began the day driving in buses to the Argentina Jewish Mutual Association (AMiA). Security was very tight with the whole route canvassed off and each bus surrounded by police cars. The buses drove at a slow pace.
At the site of the new AMIA building, we were welcomed by Ralph Thomas Saieg the AMIA President. We heard personal testimonies from relatives of victims that perished at the AMIA building and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, the father and grandfather of victims of the Toulouse 2012 attack, the father of the victim of the Copenhagen synagogue 2015 attack. We heard a panel on International terrorism and a tribute to the victims of the AMIA attack. Obviously, it was very emotional and poignant.
After lunch we went to the site of the embassy bombing. The embassy was moved to another venue and the site remains barren – a reminder of the tragedy. There we participated in the official ceremony marking the anniversary of the bombing.
Twenty years on, such attacks continue to take place all over the world, targeting the innocent, trying to destroy our way of life.
That evening OSFA-WIZO President Nicole Kovalivker and Alicia Barmaimon invited me to the Colon Theatre to attend the opening night of the season, It was magical.
On Friday morning (18 March) I was taken to the beautiful antique OSFA building, where 100 OSFA members convened. I spoke and Nicole translated every word; they were shown a video of their projects and mainly WIZO NIr HaEmek that I prepared prior to the mission. The ladies were very excited to see and learn about their projects; where their money was going. They were very impressed that I knew what was happening in Argentina and its effect on the Jewish community.
After my speech, lunch was served, followed by mingling and personal conversations with donors and long standing members. I was surrounded by a lot of warmth and good feeling. OSFA ladies are very cultured women and are ardent Zionists. Despite the general situation in Argentina, they do their utmost for WIZO. They have a lovely, sucessful three-room Bigudit. I also had a brief meeting with the executive committee. The day ended at 16:30 as everyone had to go home to prepare for Shabbat.
Although it was the weekend and I was a little homesick, the OSFA-WIZO ladies did everything to make me feel at home. In the evening, I was invited to Clara Broide's apartment in one of Buenos Aires' most elegant buildings for a Shabbat dinner that was superb. The company was fantastic. On (19 March) Saturday they hosted me for lunch, dinner and showed me around Buenos Aires and took me to an exhibition.
On Sunday (20 March) evening, OSFA-WIZO President Nicole Kovalivker invited to her residence, over 100 people that included ministers, ambassadors, dignitaries, donors and OSFA members for a cocktail in my honor. At this beautiful event of music, dancing and champagne, her daughter sang and played the piano. The atmosphere was fantastic and a wonderful end to the Argentina leg of my mission.
Again, I want to express my sincere gratitude to Nicole, Clara, Alicia, Amalia and all the chaverot from OSFA-WIZO Argentina for their warm welcome and hospitality throughout my stay in Argentina. Muchas Gracias.
On my way back to home, I flew to Milan, my hometown, where I was met on Tuesday (22 March) by Susanna Schaky – President of ADEI WIZO Milan. In the evening, 20 WIZO ladies came for dinner in my honor hosted by Ester Silvana Israel, National President of ADEI WIZO at the amazing Principe de Savoia Hotel.
The next day Wednesday (23 March) was Ta'anit Esther and ADEI WIZO held a Purim party for children on their premises. It was a lot of fun and the children received Purim-themed coloring books in Italian.
On this happy note, I close my first WIZO mission as president. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.