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Jews take lead in Latin anti-poverty struggle
Latinamerica Press / December 7, 2000

By Larry Luxner

Some 140 presidents and leaders of Jewish communities throughout the Americas have recommended the creation of an alliance among the public and private sectors -- and with NGOs -- to make volunteer work account for 5% of the region's GDP by 2005, and 10% by 2015.

"Globalization of the economy cannot be separated from globalization of solidarity," according to the conclusions of a forum held recently in Uruguay, under the auspices of the Inter-American Development Bank and the Latin American Jewish Congress.

"The struggle against poverty is an imperative of justice that must arise as a natural moral obligation," said a conference declaration, which referred to the experience of Jewish institutions and the state of Israel as ways to achieve the objectives of social work and solidarity without borders. In Israel, the so-called "third sector" accounts for 8% of Gross Domestic Product and employs 11% of the economically active population.

The Montevideo dialogue, among the first of its kind in South America, included Jewish representatives from the United States as well as experts from the World Bank, the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

"Poverty has taken many forms throughout the region," said IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias, who inaugurated the July 20-21 conference. "It has hit the middle classes hard, creating the so-called new poverty, which has had a strong impact on the Jewish communities, among other sectors."

Bernardo Kliksberg, coordinator of the IDB's Inter-American Institute for Social Development, said "the effect of poverty on families causes great concern. It erodes and destroys family units."

Kliksberg recently completed a book titled "La lucha contra la pobreza en América Latina: deterioro socioeconómico y experiencias de las comunidades judias."He said that, contrary to popular belief, poverty is now a harsh reality for Jewish communities, and this fact calls for applying solidarity and justice as central values taken from the Bible and the message of the prophets.

Poverty's Jewish victims include professionals who have been laid off as a result of recent privatizations, as well as tailors, shopkeepers and other small merchants whose have been forced to close their businesses in the wake of cost-cutting austerity measures that have sapped their customers' purchasing power.

Among the community experiences reviewed at the Montevideo meeting were microenterprise and decentralization of social action by Alianza Solidaria y Fundación Tzedaká of Argentina, and the job market and work-training program of the Asociación Mutual Israelita of Argentina. Fundación Activa of Mexico gave a presentation on its housing programs that are offered to poor communities, while the Asociación Israelita of Venezuela gave information on its new, low-cost hospital and pharmacy unit.

Iglesias said the IDB had established a dialogue with the Catholic Church and various Protestant denominations, as well as with Jewish communities, on the fight against poverty. He said a follow-up meeting would likely be held next year.

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