Colorado Cabinet members travel to Argentina and Uruguay

In April, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) National Young Leadership Cabinet Study Mission traveled to South America, with stops in Argentina and Uruguay. As the premier leadership training program of the Jewish philanthropic community, Cabinet educates, connects, and inspires current and future leaders and philanthropists. Six Coloradans joined this mission. We spoke to two of them—Gil Selinger, who is on the JEWISHcolorado Board, and Marisa Porter—when they returned.

Gil, you were actually one of the co-chairs who organized this mission. Why was it important to you to get so deeply involved?

Gil: It took a year of dedicated, coordinated planning between lay and professional leaders to plan a trip of this size and import. With 183 participants, it was the largest-ever JFNA Mission outside of Israel. I love to travel, and I love Israel, so having the opportunity to plan Cabinet’s Study Mission, and learn more about the Federation Israel and Overseas space appealed to me as a way to get more involved in the planning of the Cabinet experience.

Gil on Cabinet Mission to South America

I have been on other study missions with Cabinet, and I believed it would be a life-changing experience to bring other Cabinet chevre to new countries to see how the Federation and our partner agencies—JAFI (Jewish Agency for Israel), JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), and World ORT—put our philanthropic support to work.

Why did you choose Argentina and Uruguay?

Gil: Part of our goal with these mission trips is to see different Jewish communities around the diaspora and to learn from them. Cabinet has never traveled to South America, which is remarkable when you realize that Argentina has the sixth-largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel. The trip was filled to capacity within three days after registration launched, which testifies to the level of interest.

Marisa, why did you want to go to those countries?

Marisa: I have not traveled in South America, and I have always wanted to go there, so that was intriguing. But most importantly, I love going on missions with Cabinet. For South America, in particular, I know that there are strong Jewish communities, and JFNA works in both Argentina and Uruguay, so I wanted to see first-hand the reach of the Federation. Even though we are living worlds apart, Jews are still Jews, with a shared history and heritage.

What are some of the experiences on the trip that will stay with you years from now?

Gil: We visited the ORT Almagro School in Buenos Aires. Getting to meet and talk to elementary-age children, seeing the next generation as they are educated by teachers and leaders, in schools funded by our federation dollars, when these Jewish students would have limited access to education otherwise, gives me enormous pride in our work. To me, it’s a reminder of the importance of Jewish identity and how that is ingrained in the next generation, especially in other parts of the diaspora.

Marisa: At this school, the way they were integrating technology into the curriculum and the intelligence of the students was something I had never seen before. The kids were brilliant. Multiple people on the trip said they wished they could send their children to this school. And everyone I talked to said, “I love it here. I never want to leave.”

Marissa on Cabinet Mission to South America

Gil: We also had the opportunity to attend an Aliyah ceremony for 20 olim moving from Argentina to Israel. It was emotional and heartwarming with singing and dancing. It was even more meaningful because it was held at the AMIA Building in Buenos Aires. (In July 1994, the AMIA Building, a Jewish Community Center, was bombed in a suicide attack that left 85 people dead and more than 300 injured. It remains the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentine history.) This bombing happened before 9/11 in a world where people were not yet paying attention to terrorism. Now, in a time when we see ongoing violence and hatred toward Jews, it was powerful to be sitting on the site of a previous terror attack for this event—a ceremony for people whose Jewish identity and connection to Israel are so strong and important that they want to move there.

Marisa: They chose to rebuild the AMIA Building in the exact same place along with a memorial. To me that says, ‘You can’t hold us down.’ During the trip, the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, who is Jewish, spoke to our group. Later, we saw him again when we were touring his residence, and he stopped to tell us that Argentina had just sent out a press release—30 years after the AMIA bombing—that Iran and Hezbollah were responsible. That is what is incredible about these trips. You meet incredible people and get exposure to information in real time that you would never have.

Cabinet in South America

Gil: On Shabbat, we prayed with the local community at Templo Libertad. Afterward, we gathered everyone at our hotel for a Shabbat Dinner, including representatives of dozens of Jewish organizations throughout Argentina. We could see the traditions of other Jewish communities and bridge the world of am Yisrael. It very much affects you when you watch people praying in Hebrew and Spanish. It reminds you that Jews all over the world are different, yet they are the same.

Marisa: I will remember taking a private tour of River Plate Stadium, the largest soccer stadium in Argentina, and meeting Hernán Feler, the person who announces all the games. He is Jewish, and he talked about how he reads the names of all the hostages before every game. He started doing this because his aunt was kidnapped and released after 54 days and has continued after she was released so that people don’t forget that there are still people being held captive.

Gil: For me, one of the real highlights of this trip was being able to organize it and know that I was opening the eyes of fellow leaders to the impact of philanthropy.

Cabinet Mission to South America

Marisa: What I appreciated about the way the trip was organized was that the events in Israel were a part of the conversation, but this trip was not focused 100 percent on Israel and events surrounding October 7.

For someone who is considering joining Cabinet, what advice would you offer?

Gil: Of all the Jewish organizations nationwide, Cabinet is the premier leadership pipeline for younger people. You learn how Federation works, how money is allocated, and how to work in philanthropy. Cabinet leaders have unprecedented access to the upper levels of Jewish Philanthropy and Advocacy. As the next generation of leaders, Cabinet provides the ability to become the leaders of today’s Jewish community.

Marisa: Run, don’t walk to Cabinet! The exposure you get to the Jewish Federation at the global level, you will never get anywhere else. You meet people from across North America and form lasting friendships. You learn from the leaders of other communities and bring their best practices home. It is a great opportunity for crowdsourcing and networking.