July 1, 2024
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Meet Rabbi Daniel Oppenheimer, of Argentina’s Ajdut Israel Community

One of the joys of being in the Jewish media world is that I get to meet many interesting and special people who are truly doing incredible things on behalf of the Jewish people. And as a former or “retired” rabbi, I have a soft spot for meeting rabbanim from around the world who are leading their communities, often in the face of very significant challenges. My meeting and interview last Thursday with Argentina’s Rabbi (Rabino) Daniel Oppenheimer of Cong. Ajdut Israel in Buenos Aires was no exception. Rabbi Oppenheimer was introduced to me by Teaneck’s Norman Schmutter, who explained to me that I would enjoy meeting Rabbi Oppenheimer. Norman was right.

Rabbi Oppenheimer came to my office after the daily Mincha in our building, and after some short introductions—where it turned out he knew my former rosh yeshiva from South Bend, R’ Rephael Moshe Gettinger, and also learned in the Mir directly and closely with the famed Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel z”l—we began to speak about his life and community.

He was born in Argentina and has lived there most of his life—with time spent in the U.S. and Israel for yeshiva and kollel—and grew up in a rabbinic household with his father the rav of the German-Jewish (“Yekke”) congregation that he now leads.

He explained that his father came to Argentina in 1953 and the shul was “originally a shul of German-speaking refugees. They brought my father from Holland and I was born in this shul…my father was the rav of the Yekkes. Most of the young people my age made aliyah, and when I came back from yeshiva, the shul was mostly old people. But in the ‘80s and ‘90s there was a boom of baalei teshuva and the shul became full again… My father passed away in 1981 and I was working in the community school and soon after I became the rabbi.”

“Argentina is strong in Yiddishkeit today,” he noted, “mainly because the larger Syrian community and our community is very intermingled with the Sephardic community. I asked about the economic situation in Argentina and how it affects the Jewish community. “The economy in Argentina,” he explained, “is like a roller coaster and it’s always been that way. It’s at one of its lowest points now. In normal times, the wealthier members of the community were able to make bigger gifts, but today it’s like an inverted pyramid as the wealthier people give less and there are more people in need. Some people make aliyah as they don’t see a future there, but it’s not more than a trickle. There are 150,000 Jews in Buenos Aires and about 7-8,000 children going to Orthodox schools.”

He shared with me one of his proudest and newest achievements in the area of kashrut. “In Argentina, it’s impossible to import kosher food due to the fluctuating currency, and local companies won’t pay to get a kosher certification, so we have to do a tremendous amount of research into every single product; we have just created an app that you can check the product’s barcode and the app tells you if it’s kosher or not.” Of course since Argentina is known for beef production, it has a team of shochtim with whom he also works closely. He showed me the app and I was very impressed as it was clear how much work went into it. He continued, “The app is free and makes it much easier for people to get kosher food.”

He works closely with U.S.-based certification agencies such as the OU and explained that the OU and others will hire Rabbi Oppenheimer and Ajdat Israel to supply mashgichim and handle the supervision of a number of products, and some of these monies are used to pay for expenses and salaries at the school.

Another initiative he was proud of that he and the entire community partner together on is a weekly vegetable sale where vegetables are bought and trucked in by the truckload and sold at low cost to people in need, with an emphasis on kavod habriyot and personal dignity.

I asked him how much he needs to raise from outside the community, and he laughed and said he didn’t know. “At least it’s going to be less than if I didn’t go,” he said. “Our community is not a place where people can plan things out. You never know what the dollar is going to be (relative to the Argentine peso) and you just have to make a hishtadlus and do the best possible, which is never going to be enough…you just have to try.” Argentina’s middle class is currently suffering tremendously from 50+ percent annual inflation and the fact that the government no longer subsidizes electricity and gas—both of which are taking a tremendous toll on the Jewish community.

I also asked him what his immediate priorities are as a community leader and if he has any dreams he wants to share with me and our readers. He answered me by explaining that “it’s not so easy to dream over there because you’re struggling so much, but a year ago we started a new program called Zman for 30 students who were not doing as well and were on the verge of going off the derech. They now have a rebbe who gives them warmth and loves them and they are taught vocational skills and trades… This is an important new program for our community.” He also mentioned that it’s not simple for Orthodox students, especially women, to attend secular college in Argentina as the Latino culture makes it difficult to go to school and not be fully integrated.” He also told me that he is about to launch a new program for women to enable them to learn vital programming skills, which is a strong job and career in Argentina today. All of these programs could use additional funds to get off the ground.

In addition to all of his many community responsibilities, he gives multiple shiurim and classes throughout the community on a daily basis. Most of his job is not to answer questions but to listen to people’s problems. “It’s the fifth Shulchan Aruch that I need most…What I took away the most from my yeshiva experiences was the warmth of mussar seder… and I try to bring that when I am trying to help and do as much as I can for our community.”

He is also a prolific author of sefarim. “Artscroll has a Spanish siddur, Chumash and Tehillim, but that’s it…so I have written over 20 sefarim in Spanish in the areas of chinuch, shalom bayit, kashrut, emunah, hilchot Shabbos, middot and more. Even now that I am traveling, I write a daily sikum (summary) on the Daf Yomi and send it by email.” He is always looking for sponsors for the sefarim he writes, as well. As our interview concluded and we were discussing the learning levels within his community, he concluded by saying, “With everything, you have to push and push.” I agree and I wish Rabbi Oppenheimer much success and hatzlacha in all of his “pushing” on behalf of his community.

Rabbi Oppenheimer also shared that several area families know him well and would be happy to speak about him and his unique community to anyone who is interested in learning more. In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Norman Schmutter in Teaneck, he is in close contact with Mr. and Mrs. Ricardo Goldschmidt in the Five Towns, Dr. and Mrs. Daniel Berman in New Rochelle, Rabbi Yehuda Azancot of Cong. Beth Torah in Flatbush, and Rabbi Yosef Bitton in Great Neck.

To learn more about and support Rabbi Oppenheimer and his unique shul and community in Argentina, you can send a donation to: American Friends of Ajdut Israel 1321 Avenue O, Brooklyn, NY. Rabbi Oppenheimer can be contacted at: [email protected]. His website is: www.ajdut.com.ar.

By Moshe Kinderlehrer, JLNJ Co-Publisher

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