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report on latin america regional conference

The Costa Rica affiliate might be small, but nobody can say that they are not vibrant, committed and warm, says Florencia Gelman.

"We had the honor of having Mirta Goldflus, Latin America Regional President of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW) at our 25th anniversary celebration in November.  During her visit, she invited the women of our congregation to the 16th Regional Workshop for Jewish Women of Latin America, in Barranquilla, Colombia, focusing on the theme “Our commitment to children and adolescents today.”

"Inspired by this topic, five members of Sisterhood participated in this enriching experience of sharing and learning: Carmen Goldner, Jeannette Ponchner, Sonia Ziegler, Alejandra Carrillo and I were in Barranquilla from 19-21 February.  It is worth noting that we were the largest delegation from any country outside Colombia.   There were two representatives from Cuba, one from Panama, three from Uruguay, two from Medellin, with the rest coming from the local community.

"The hosts and organizers of the event were Susie Steckerl, president of the Fundación Amigos de la Comunidad Golda Meir; Sharon Gustafson, president of the ICJW; Mirta Goldflus; Sara Wisconwski, Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress; and Ilan Sultanik, the energetic, charismatic, twenty-five year-old rabbi of the Barranquilla congregation.

"From the moment we arrived, we felt right at home.  Our hosts were upbeat and hospitable, characteristic of residents of Caribbean cities.  And to take on the difficult topics of the workshop, we had outstanding presenters, starting with the ex-President of Colombia, Dr. Alvaro Uribe Vélez, whose charismatic, eloquent presentation gave us insight into dangers and consequences faced by children affected by war.

"Other speakers discussed abuse and exploitation of children; bullying; depression and suicide; adolescents as change agents in prevention of drug use; and resilience/overcoming adversity.  There were also talks on the emotional relationship between parents and children; “let’s talk about sex;” eroticism; and the satisfaction of giving (tzedakah).  All the presentations were most informative and valuable.

Among the highlights of the event was the visit to the Colegio Golda Meir, where the foundation of the same name, which was established by Susie’s mother and is operated by Susie, has been subsidizing the education of 900 students from a low-income neighborhood for the past 35 years.  Their efforts are so impressive, as in addition to education, they provide food and a computer to each student.  The students entertained us with dancing, singing, and a percussion recital.  It was a most enriching experience.

"On the last day, each delegation gave a brief presentation on the social action activities undertaken in their respective communities.  Carmen, our Sisterhood president, spoke about our work in support of the Alimentando Esperanzas community center.  We heard beautiful, inspiring stories such as those of the representatives from Cuba, where freedom and lack of funds are constant struggles.

"But the trip wasn’t only about work – we had plenty of fun as well!  Each night, there was a formal activity for the participants.  We socialized and got to know each other better, danced to the rhythms of different musical styles, ate delicious food and even had a few shots of the local “firewater!”  The Costa Rican delegation was very well-received.  We got the reputation of being open and happy, so much so that the group proposed that we host the next conference four years from now.  That’s why I say that even if B’nei Israel is a young and small congregation, our warmth and commitment distinguish us wherever we go."