Argentine adventures

Eitan Malkus, Editor-in-Chief

After finals in late June, 11 CESJDS high school students spent a week touring Buenos Aires, Argentina for the Spanish Cultural Immersion Trip. After an inaugural trip in 2018, the school planned to run the  trips once every three years. However, the trip was postponed in 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions and instead took place this past summer. 

In 2018, the trip was led by World Languages Department Chair Silvia Kurlat Ares and former Spanish teacher Deby Kijak. However, Kijak was unable to attend the trip this year due to family matters and Kurlat Ares was sidelined weeks before the trip because of a back injury. That left Kurlat Ares with a daunting task: finding two teachers that could attend the trip, at least one of whom knew how to speak Spanish. 

“One of Dr. Vardi’s suggestions was that we should pick up someone completely different: a male teacher with a different perspective who taught a different subject. That is how we ended up with [History teacher] Mark Buckley,” Kurlat Ares said. “Then we needed somebody who could play my part: somebody with experience in international travel, somebody that could bring balance to the trip and [English teacher] Nancy Wassner was gracious enough to take my place.” 

Wassner was also chosen as the second chaperone because of her experience studying the language, having taken a Spanish class for six years in middle school, high school and college. While she hadn’t used her Spanish in a long time, the trip offered her a chance to practice her skills. 

“I did do some speaking on my own in Argentina: I spoke to people when I needed to buy stuff, I spoke to folks in the hotel, I spoke to the teachers at two schools that we visited who had organized our visit,” Wassner said. “Those were really good opportunities for me to use and build on my Spanish skills.” 

While the trip includes historical and cultural experiences such as visiting the famous Recoleta cemetery and the La Boca neighborhood, there is also a large emphasis on interacting with the robust Jewish community in Buenos Aires. Students on the trip visited synagogues, Jewish neighborhoods and two Jewish day schools in the area, Colegio Tarbut and ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation through Training). 

“The students visited two schools: Tarbut, which is a school with which we already have a working relationship with, as they came to visit us a couple years ago, and [the students] are also going to visit ORT,” Kurlat Ares said. “ORT is an organization of international Jewish schools and there are ORT schools all over the world. It is a Jewish school, but in Argentina, the school has opened their doors to people who aren’t Jewish.” 

Senior Yuval Klein, who has taken Spanish at JDS since seventh grade, was initially nervous to meet the students at the two Argentine Jewish schools because of the language barrier.

“I didn’t expect that visiting the schools would be so enjoyable, but when we visited both schools, talking with the kids was really cool and seeing how their lives were totally different from ours, even though they are ” Klein said. 

In addition to visiting Jewish day schools, students experienced Shabbat on their last full day in Argentina. 

“We had organized two service options within walking distance for Shabbat: one was the Beit Jabad Recoleta [Chabad], and the other was Comunidad Bet Hilel, a masorti synagogue which was much more like a reform congregation, with lots of music and many youth groups,” Wassner said. “We all had dinner together on Friday night, which was a bit complicated with the prepackaged individual meals, but we tried to make it a little nicer, get a tablecloth and make Shabbat together.” 

On Saturday afternoon before they departed, students were given free time to roam around the neighborhood close to the hotel for their last glimpse of the city before heading out that night. Some of the students went out to an artisans market close to the hotel and others walked to a free Fine Arts Museum nearby. 

Senior Matan Goldstein really enjoyed how meaningful the trip was and how he was able to learn about a different culture than his own. 

“The trip was a phenomenal display of Argentinian culture and beauty,” Goldstein said. “We learned not simply about the history and cultural references but also had the opportunity to interact with locals and Jewish students our age. I was able to strengthen my Spanish and even more so, create ties with communities that now seem not that far away.”