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The Big Move

Guess when we arrived in Buenos Aires? It was the end of February 2020, just a few weeks before coronavirus invaded the entire world

My name is Debbie. My parents lived in Argentina, and I, too, was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was a baby when my parents decided to move to Eretz Yisrael. We moved when I was a year and a half old, from Buenos Aires to Bnei Brak.

I loved growing up in Bnei Brak. I had lots of friends and felt very comfortable there. My younger siblings, two brothers and a sister, were born in Eretz Yisrael. The part that was challenging for us was that we didn’t have any relatives in the country. All my friends often visited their grandparents and cousins. We had our own wonderful family, but no extended family, and that made me feel lonely.

When I was nine years old, my father called us kids into the kitchen one evening. He asked us if we would like to spend a Shabbos with our grandparents in Argentina. He said, “Would you like to spend Shabbos with our family in Buenos Aires? With your great-grandmothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins?” We all got very excited.

“Yes! Of course!” we cheered.

My father’s eyes twinkled as he leaned forward. “How many Shabbatot would you like to spend there?” he asked.

“Four! Ten! One hundred!” I said.

My father leaned back in his seat. “Well, would you like to move there?” he asked. “Then we could spend every Shabbos with our relatives.” This sounded so exciting and marvelous that we all said yes. Afterward, I was surprised that we all agreed so quickly, because we were really all quite happy in Bnei Brak. Maybe we were excited at the thought of moving, or maybe we just were really glad to get to know our relatives. But together with the excitement, once the reality set in, I realized that I was also nervous. What would school be like in Argentina? What about friends? Though I did speak Spanish, my reading and writing skills were weak. And I loved living in Bnei Brak. The thought of living in a place full of goyim made me nervous. When we finally did get off the plane in Argentina, my fears were confirmed straight away: There were so many strange-looking people. For someone who grew up in Bnei Brak and was used to seeing mostly frum people, it was a big shock. In Buenos Aires, there were all different kinds of characters — goyim who wore strange clothes and strange hairstyles. I even saw children who dyed their hair different colors, like bright blue or green. There were many Jews, too, but I was struck by all the non-Jews everywhere.

Guess when we arrived in Buenos Aires? It was the end of February 2020, just a few weeks before coronavirus invaded the entire world, from Bnei Brak to Buenos Aires and everywhere in between. I went to school for only two weeks before the schools closed down. Everyone went into lockdown, and we couldn’t see anyone. I didn’t have any friends; I’d left behind my friends in Bnei Brak, and I couldn’t make new friends in Argentina through classes over the phone! I couldn’t see them, I hadn’t learned all their names, and I couldn’t recognize their voices over the telephone. It was very difficult for me. Also, the main reason we came to Buenos Aires was to be with our family, but with the lockdown, we couldn’t see anyone! On Seder night we were all alone, just like we had been in Bnei Brak.

Another major challenge was trying to do my schoolwork. I had to learn the Spanish words for everything, words like say fractions, multiplication, and so much more. I’d never learned any Argentinian history or geography, and suddenly I had to do it all — in Spanish. My mother helped me a lot, because the lessons over the phone were not enough for me.

On the other hand, the limudei kodesh were easier for me. I was used to learning in Hebrew, and here, the teachers translated the pesukim from the Chumash and Navi into Spanish. Learning that way was very slow. I really enjoyed limudei kodesh and I missed learning in Hebrew, so I used endless hours during the lockdown to listen to hundreds of shiurim on Kol Halashon. I learned so much! We weren’t allowed to go out, I didn’t have friends, but the shiurim filled me up and helped keep me busy. I feel very grateful toward the rabbanim of Kol Halashon.

Finally, in March 2021, schools reopened. It was a big relief. I finally made good friends! A huge difference here is that there are only 17 girls in my class. In Bnei Brak, there were 39 girls! Here in Argentina, the teacher knows each of the girls well, and develops a close relationship with each one. On the first day of school here in Buenos Aires, all the classes gathered to hear the menahelet speak. I looked around at all the girls and thought, “Are these the only girls in the whole school?!” There were less girls in the entire school than there were in first grade alone at my old school!

Our whole schedule here is very different. In Bnei Brak, we finished school at 1:00. We had time to go to friends, to the park, and to do homework. In Buenos Aires, we are in school until 4:50, but we go home in the middle of the day, from 12:00 to 1:30, for lunch. We hardly get any homework because we are in school for most of the day. And here, I don’t like to go the park. It is full of goyim and dogs. There are so many dogs here in Buenos Aires. The streets are full of them. Not many children go to the park, but the goyim take their dogs; most of them own dogs, even dangerous ones. Tons of shops sell all sorts of dog food and dog accessories, and it looks like the people here take care of their dogs as if they were their children. In Bnei Brak, no one had dogs, so I am not used to them at all. They scare me.

Instead of the park, every Sunday during the spring and summer, we go to a special country club that is only for frum people. I meet my friends and we can play outdoors, and we even have a swimming pool.

Even though our community is very frum, I find that I really miss the kedushah of Bnei Brak. I used to visit Rebbetzin Koledetsky and Rebbetzin Yisraelson very often. I miss the beautiful songs played on loudspeakers on Erev Shabbos before candelighting. I miss the frequent hachnasas sefer Torahs, and I miss being able to go out on the street alone. I’m already ten years old, but here in Buenos Aires, my parents don’t let me go out alone, like children do in Bnei Brak. And worst of all is going out on Shabbos: watching all the cars, the shops, and the goyim gives me a headache.

Even though I miss so many things about Bnei Brak, there are lots of good things about living here in Buenos Aires. I am learning that it is up to each one of us to always focus on the positive parts of whatever our situation is and wherever we live, and thank Hashem for all the good things we have.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 897)

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