The Fall semester saw 9 new-immigrant students from Argentina studying toward a degree at the University, and 12 more in the University’s Pre-Academic Preparatory Program. Another 10-15 former Argentineans are expected in the Spring semester, according to University officials, who call these students one of the best aliya success stories. “They work, they study. They not only receive [subsidies], they do things for themselves and others. They adapt quickly, integrate well with Israelis,” the officials said. Focus interviewed one of the nine in the regular degree program.
A Determined Argentinean Immigrant Finds Satisfaction Here
It takes guts—or maybe gut Zionism—to come on aliya alone as a young adult, even from a beleaguered country like Argentina. Perhaps that’s what prompted Cynthia and David Blumenthal of Ottawa to award a full tuition scholarship to Judit Vinocur, originally of Bahia Blanca, Argentina, and now a student in the School of Social Work.
Speaking with Judit (pronounced almost as it is in Hebrew, Yehudit) is like reading a Jewish Agency ad for aliya or tourism. But her words, and a determination to live in Israel, are backed up by hard work, physical as well mental.
“Here I don’t need anyone to be concerned with me,” says the 23-year-old student. “Life is agreeable for me here.”
She does not mind having had to take time off from her studies to work in a kibbutz cowshed and kindergarten, or to work with disadvantaged pupils or, as she is doing now, to act as a counselor for a group of teenagers from Argentina who have come on the Jewish Agency’s Naaleh program to prepare them for aliya. Judit does this, morning to night, several days a week, which permits her only two days a week to go to classes at the University. The boarding school is five minutes from Kibbutz Degania Aleph in the Jezreel Valley, where she rents a room. As might be expected, her class schedule for the two days on campus leave her little time to catch her breath. She also saves on travel expenses by commuting to Haifa just two days, she admitted.
Judit had an advantage when she immigrated to Israel. She basically knew the language. “Israel was always in my home,” she explains. “It was not foreign to me.” The 200-300 Jewish families in her home town supported a Jewish elementary and high school, as well as Jewish youth groups, all of which saw her participation. The upper grades of the high school prepared her to be a Hebrew teacher in her native country, and she then spent a year at the Hayim Greenberg Institute in Jerusalem to further this training.
After she returned home, however, she knew she had to make aliya. “I saw myself here, my future. Here was where I wanted to raise a family, practice my profession. I loved Israel. I felt good here.”
Her parents did nothing to prevent her, but they did not encourage her, either. She was left to decide her own destiny. This last statement was expressed in appreciation. As for her parents, their economic situation, unlike that of many Argentinean Jews, has been reasonable, according to Judit. They have even managed to visit their daughter, but have no thoughts of following in her footsteps and leaving Argentina. Neither have her two brothers, one older and one younger; both are university students and are trying to make up their minds whether to emigrate, she said.
Judit went straight to a kibbutz near Haifa when she came to Israel because she knew some people there. Though she very much loved kibbutz life, she wanted to work with people, “to aid people at an eye-to-eye level,” as she put it. To gain confidence in herself, as well as in Israeli university life—despite knowledge of the language, she thought the studies would be too hard for her as a newcomer to Israel—she studied in the University’s preparatory program before applying to the School of Social Work. She moved to Haifa for a time, but the longing for kibbutz life drew her back, this time to Degania. “I live in one of the most beautiful areas in Israel,” she says. To Judit, this is a statement of fact.
But she acknowledges that Israel, let alone kibbutz life, is not for everyone. “I have friends who haven’t found themselves here,” she says. “It’s a personal decision [aliya]. I explain [to those considering the step] what I do. That’s all. I don’t attempt to convince people to stay.”
As for Judit’s own future, she goes no further than saying she is trying to decide on a specific area in social work. Next summer she will either work on the kibbutz or visit her parents. She still has another year and a half of studies and practicum before graduating. She is amazed at how fast she received the scholarship after applying for it. “I am very satisfied here,” she had replied earlier when asked about life at the University. But it also plainly summed up her feelings about Israel in general.
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