Paola Salem


Written by Fray Hochstein, on behalf of Team ROI

Paola loves to connect. A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she was born, raised, and still lives, Paola began her professional life working in education in Jewish schools. After her two sons were born, however, she decided that she wanted to be able to focus on her family. Being an active part of the Jewish community was still important to Paola, and she searched for a way to remain involved. She had an idea of creating a network of Jewish travelers, but was discouraged by the many people who told her that she couldn’t do it on her own and that she needed to work within an organization. 

At this point a friend suggested that she apply to ROI. The experience was transformative. “The people at ROI said the opposite of what I was being told. They said ‘we support people, not organizations!’ They gave me the tools to make my dreams happen. Inspired by ROI, I began connecting with other young leaders who felt like I did, and together we started creating programs centered on strengthening Jewish identity in coffee shops, not organizations.” 

Paola’s idea for a kind of online Jewish Lonely Planet grew from her own experiences. “I keep kosher and love visiting the local synagogues wherever I travel but it’s not easy to find them, so I thought it would be great if there was one website that would list all the Jewish places in a city.” For security reasons Paola came up with the idea of having people contact her, and then connecting them to the relevant Jewish community. Feedback from travelers then led her to create Judaic Tourism, local guides who give tours highlighting Jewish life, both past and present, which now exists in twenty cities in Latin America. 

Paola emphasizes: “We are not a travel agency, we are a social company. We connect travelers to the local community and part of what they pay goes directly to the community and to the institutions they visit. In Cuba, for example, this is a big help to them.” Many of the communities Paola works with are small and often isolated. Being a part of her project opens them up to people from all over, and this in turn has impacted the way they function and even helped them to grow.

She says: “ROI is a part of my life, one that continues to provide me with help and support. When I went to the Summit I met with No’a Gorlin who told me: ‘You are not alone, you have many people who will help you!’ Being in ROI exposed me to all the different ways that people live Jewishly all over the world. It inspired me to think outside the box, and not be discouraged.” 

Recently, when the World Cup took place in Brazil, Paola used an ROI micro grant to connect Jewish football fans in the country for the event with the various local Jewish communities. Tens of volunteers organized events, such as soccer on the beach and Shabbat dinners, in which hundreds of people participated. 

“Every time I travel to a city I look on Facebook to see if there are any ROIers there, and reach out to them. Every time someone needs something, we post it. We are all a big family. Connect and create is definitely the slogan of my life!”

Photo credit of hero image: Noa Magger Photography