Community Leader Berenice Arce: A WRJ YES Fund Story

By: Lisa B. Schwartz and Patricia Holman of Fundación Judaica
August 31, 2022

WRJ YES Fund Grantee Fundación Judaica was established after the tragic attack in July of 1994 on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The attack left 85 people killed and over 300 injured. Together with a group of volunteers, Rabbi Sergio Bergman, current President of World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), formed Fundación Judaica to move forward and even transcend the destruction of the attack with a renewed commitment to construction. The organization serves as a network of Reform Jewish institutions in Argentina. Fundación Judaica works to strengthen the work of women and young people through education. They also create community within the framework of Reform Judaism, all while promoting total inclusivity. This network of institutions helps to develop all aspects of the  Jewish life cycle with participants who, in turn, contribute to the community with their individuality. 

We are so grateful to Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) for supporting Fundación Judaica’s Women’s Community Leadership Training Program. This program helps to increase the participation of women in leadership positions across Reform institutions in Argentina. The program helps its participants to advance their leadership skills with lessons taught by leading figures in the fields of community life, philosophy, and humanities, among others. Lessons from the most recent cohort included: Learning about Fundación Judaica - Its Values, Mission and Brand; Leaders in Times of Change; Defining the Purpose of Being a Community Leader; Designing the Future in a Rapidly Changing Reality; and Connecting Fundación Judaica with Local and Global Organizations. 

One of our students, Berenice Arce is a model of female leadership, training, solidarity, and commitment. She was born in San Juan and studied at the University of Córdoba, where she met her now husband, Ariel Orchansky. They had two children together, and while her husband developed his business, Berenice dedicated herself to her children who started kindergarten and elementary school at the Arlene Fern School, a member of the Fundación Judaica network. Some years later, they decided to move to Tigre, Buenos Aires where they became one of the founding families of another Fundación Judaica network institution, the Judaica Norte Temple and Community Center. Berenice’s family donated generous contributions to fund the institution and helped to build the community alongside other families.

After 10 years of supporting her husband in his leadership within the Jewish community, Berenice was invited by Fundación Judaica to have a greater involvement in leading their institutions. She joined the Women’s Community Leadership Training Program, developed with the generous support of WRJ. 

In the program, Bernice, along with other women, began to participate in community leadership, which until then had been done by their husbands. The experience was very meaningful to Bernice, she shared:

There is always a tendency to focus much more on what we volunteers give to the community, than on what we receive in return. We receive MEANING, identity, meaning for our lives. We (receive) direction, are an example for our children. There are only so many tasks we can do that allow us to get those things in return... yet we struggle to notice the preciousness of the payback.

Bernice participated in meaningful partnerships at multiple branches of the Fundación Judaica, including her work at Idel Foundation and Colonia Avigdor. Idel Foundation is dedicated to enhancing the dignity of and improving the quality of life of people with intellectual disabilities by promoting their inclusion in the labor market. Colonia Avigdor is a small Jewish community in the Entre Ríos province in Argentina whose inhabitants are in need of food, shelter, and other crucial resources. Fundación Judaica works with the village to develop its agriculture and livestock industries. 

Particularly notable is Bernice’s work in establishing a new branch of the Arlene Fern Community School in Judaica Norte, making it possible for more children to have access to an inclusive, unique, and bilingual education. With sensitivity, capability, and a deep understanding of the community needs, Berenice led the project with a fellow graduate of the Women's Community Leadership Training Program. Together, they secured donations of computers - the basic learning tools necessary for the future development of the students. They have received 25 computers so far and have also collected donations including children’s shoes, desks, hairs, as well as warm clothes, and other necessities. 

Continuing her participation in Jewish life, Berenice was a student in Fundación Judaica’s Bat Mitzvah Course for Adult Women in 2020-2021 which is generously supported by another YES Fund partner - World Union for Progressive Judaism. It was with great pride that she celebrated her Bat Mitzvah in August 2021 at the synagogue she helped found, Judaica Norte Temple. In May 2023, she will travel to Israel to celebrate along with her fellow B'not Mitzvah students!

In September of this year, Berenice’s youngest son will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. It is so meaningful that during this important time in his life, he will have Berenice to look to - a loving and committed mother who serves the Jewish community. Berenice will continue to serve and lead the Reform Jewish community in Argentina - helping to advance its values, as she remains dedicated to continued Jewish education and community growth. All of this hard work is possible because of the generous support of WRJ. 

“None of this would have happened if I had not had the opportunity to train and share with my peers in the Women Leaders Cycle provided by Fundación Judaica through the support of WRJ. Of course, my deepest gratitude."
- Berenice. 

If you would like to apply to be a YES Fund recipient, with a focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), contact Shari Schulner at sschulner@wrj.org. The request for proposals will be sent at the end of September 2022.

WRJ is not accepting other grant proposals at this time. 

Related Posts

From the RAC to Rabbinical School: A WRJ YES Fund Story

July 22, 2022
My relationship with WRJ began with a business card. It was June 2018, and the URJ Board of Trustees was convening in Austin, TX, for their annual Board meeting. As a recent graduate and former student leader at the University of Texas Hillel, I was asked to lead Shabbat morning services for the URJ Board before joining Board members for lunch and a discussion on how to best engage college students in the Reform Movement.

Wee Jam for Justice: It's Never too Early to Start

May 31, 2022
In 2014, I founded Tkiya to create participatory music experiences that meet families where they are - physically, psychologically, and spiritually – and find their unique connection to Jewish culture and community. One thing I’ve always been proud of is Tkiya’s reputation for making Judaism welcoming, accessible, and inclusive. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that we started to learn how to articulate and incorporate JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) in a more intentional way. This year, we received a grant from WRJ to deepen this work through our Wee Jam for Justice program. The learnings that we’ve had through this experience have had an incredible impact on Tkiya and the communities that we serve in such a short time.