SSDSEU Chilean Exchange program helps out

When student, families and staff at Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union heard about the devastation in Chile following an earthquake a few short weeks ago, they knew they had to help. After all, the school has a close connection to Chile – For the past six years SSDSEU has held a 10th grade annual exchange program with the Instituto Hebreo in Santiago, Chile.

Immediately following the earthquake, SSDSEU Chilean Exchange program coordinator Gail Shapiro, reached out to Instituto Hebreo and the surrounding Jewish community. “Thankfully no one in the community that we know has suffered any physical harm and there was minimal structural damage to their homes and school,” said Shapiro in an e-mail to the SSDSEU community. “Nonetheless, as a school we wanted to help the greater Chilean community.”

Through her synagogue, Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, Shapiro and a small group of Agudath congregants, together with Rabbi Tzvi Graetz, Executive Director of Masorti Olami, World Council of Conservative Synagogues, were able to connect with Rabbi Angel Kreiman, the rabbi of the Comunidad Israelita de Concepcion, the sole synagogue in Concepcion, Chile, the epicenter of the earthquake. “We learned that we were the first formal group of people to contact him outside of Chile since the earthquake, and he was deeply touched by our effort to reach out to him,” said Shapiro. Shapiro learned that the synagogue has suffered significant damage and is the only religious home to approximately 600 Jews in and around Concepcion, which is located approximately 200 miles south of Santiago. In addition to the approximately $200,000 needed to rebuild the synagogue, Shapiro learned that there was an immediate need to help families celebrate and observe Passover.

With that in mind, Shapiro reached out to SSDSEU Chilean exchange families, current and from the past two years, requesting that they each “adopt” a Concepcion family for Passover. “The response has been overwhelming,” said Shapiro. “It is truly heartwarming how our community has come together in a matter of just days to offer support for our friends in Concepcion, Chile. Once again SSDSEU families demonstrate through their generosity that among brothers and sisters, there is no distance (entre hermanos y hermanas, no hay distancia),” said Shapiro. On March 17th, Shapiro sent an envelope to the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues for the Concepcion Relief Fund, that contained checks totaling $1,788 from approximately 25 exchange program families plus faculty and staff who each contributed amounts varying from $36 to $180. Additionally, L’Mad (SSDSEU National Honor Society chapter) contributed $360 toward this effort, and the SSDSEU Parents’ Association has decided to contribute an additional $1,500 as well. Shapiro expects that additional donations will continue to trickle in for the Concepcion Relief Fund.

“Solomon Schechter Upper School has done amazing mitzvah work, raising funds to support families with Passover supplies,” said Rabbi Alan Silverstein of Agudath Israel. “What a great story of Maot Chitim” (the centuries old custom of helping gathering wheat to provide the poor with matzos and other items for the observance of Pesach.)

Article written by: Chilean Exchange Program Coordinator, SSDS of Essex and Union, NJ.