Well I am nearing the end of my journey to Argentina since tomorrow is my last full day in this lovely country (which I will spend seeing some last minutes sites that slipped my mind the past month). I will definitely miss too many things to name including cafe con leche, my host family, hearing Hebrew spoken with a Spanish accent, beautiful parks everywhere I turn, discovering a whole new community where I fit right in and identify alongside my fellow Jews (Hillel), and many other amazing things this experience has brought. Most importantly though, I have discovered many things about my own personality and feelings through out this trip simply because you have no one else to rely on but yourself. It is such an amazing feeling to know that after putting together this, what at one time was a crazy idea of a trip, that I can absolutely do anything or go anywhere with nothing but my own wits and the will to do something.
Most importantly, I want to thank my many friends (even if you simply sat through my ramblings of random facts about Argentina’s Jewish community), family members, professors, mentors, and most importantly, Mr. David Plastino, who have helped me in more ways than they could possibly realize in fulfilling my dream, expanding my horizons, and helping me to become a better person along the way. I am forever grateful to each of you and can not wait to tell you all about my experiences abroad, in person.
So as my time here in BA is nearing to a close a little quicker than I imagined I am trying to fit in all the last minutes activities a tourist (who has been here for a month none the less) must absolutely do. So I have been in 5 museums in the past 2 days, which is truly heaven for a history nerd/museum lover like myself so needless to say I’ve been enjoying myself. I would say about half the museums I visited did not actually have impressive material within them but I was astonished at the scale and beauty of the buildings (most very old mansions) that they were housed in, while on the other hand, I loved the pieces the museums had to offer. If anyone is ever in BA you should absolutely go to the Decorative Arts Museum (its sooo under rated) and in such a beautiful French-style mansion from the 1800’s.
However, the real highlight was the morning I had today. I got a private tour of one of the ORT technical schools/high schools in the Belgrano area of the city. My friend works is teaching English there and was able to show me around and even set me up to sit in on a few classes of Jewish Studies (I tried to keep up with the Spanish as best I could). ORT is this absolutely amazing organization which basically provides Jews all over the world (and I mean all over the world, Cuba, Bulgaria, you name it) with vocational training and education wherever there is a need for it. In fact, it is the largest Jewish educational non-profit in the world! The school was absolutely amazing with great facilities and so much to offer the kids (thats probably why it is the best high school in BA and university in Uruguay). They had their own radio station, TV show, design center (where they designed and produced a car from nothing), and robotics center. Their facilities were definitely more advanced than anything I had in my high school, and with about 3000 kids from 7th until 12th grade (American style) I was really impressed. It was also really cool to sit in on a few classes (and tell the kids about my research a bit) and see how they acted in class and how the teacher’s taught. Well, the style of teaching is definitely more laid back here in America which is understandable since the kids are in school from about 7:30am until 5:30 pm every day. I really loved seeing how the kids interacted with one another while “acting out their Judaism”. I was happily surprised to see that a lot of the kids actually did make a quick stop, in between periods, to say a quick prayer in the little synagogue they have within the school. School in Argentina is definitely a different, less strict environment, than in the U.S. but it was nice to see that ORT’s mission was being carried out the same as it would be in the U.S. by simply giving Jewish kids the facilities and opportunities they need to be the best they possibly could.
Well, I’ll post some pictures from a few of the Jewish institutions I’ve visited lately. I’m off to Montevideo, Uruguay for a few days to see how the Jewish community differs there (which I’m super excited for) and I’ll keep you all posted.
Well today I finally made it to the Latin American Rabbinic Seminary in the Belgrano neighborhood. I absolutely love the Belgrano neighborhood, the hub of Conservative Judaism in BA. It is so beautiful with tons of newer apartment buildings a surprising amount of little houses tucked in (very unusual for BA where everyone lives in apartments). The seminary was very nice, and in a newer looking building with a lovely landscaped front yard, obviously tucked away behind a big gate with a security guide that tried to understand why I was there for 5 minutes (although he was very nice and dealt well with my horrible Spanish attempts).
The building was actually quite large with lots of classrooms and conference areas. I made my way up to the library where a really sweet librarian helped me find a surprising amount of books in English about Jewish immigration to Argentina and a really cool book about German Jews who immigrated to Rio Grande do Sul in Southern Brazil (which obviously caught my attention because that is super interesting and may be my next project). The library was definitely the nicest and most high tech I have visited so far with lots of books and articles in English, and a bunch of nice, new computers to do work on too. A few tables over from me a small class of rabbinic students were skyping during their lesson, and were going over things in Hebrew (which sound really funny in a Spanish accent). Overall, I had a great experience, and thought the center (the only rabbinic institute in all of Latin America) was even cooler because the other day my great aunt and uncle let me know that they were actually very good friends with the man who founded it and tried to revamp Conservative Judaism in Argentina (which he was very successful at), Marshall Meyer (hi Aunt Honey and Uncle Ervin!)
Well, I am off to another Conversation Club meeting at Hillel and hoping to talk people more about their ideas of Judaism and how they participate in it some more!
Well today I went to the big Hillel house in the Belgrano neighborhood (an area known for its large population of Conservative Jews) and it was so great! I expected the building to be a very guarded office building type but it was actually this absolutely beautiful (I would have taken a picture if that was not so sketchy anywhere remotely near a Jewish institution) old, historic looking house with a perfectly landscaped front yard (it was literally a little oasis right off the main strip of the area) with a security guard behind its gated exterior. As soon as I walked in I found out that I had actually come to a Conversation Club where Jewish Argentineans (ages 18 to 30) are invited to come and practice their English, and they love having native English speakers to have more natural conversations. Needless to say everyone spoke English and was extremely warm and welcoming, which I much appreciated. It was such a great experience that it honestly brightened my day! It was an informal teaching method where they watched an episode of popular American sitcoms (in this case 2 and a half men) and then discussed the episode to make sure everyone understood it thus allowing the conversation to flow accordingly. It was such a wonderful experience and I will definitely be going back on Tuesday night for their next session of the Conversation Club. I loved being able to talk with kids my own age, Judaism on the back burner although everyone there was obvously Jewish, and simply see what their interests and paths in Argentina are and how they viewed the USA. I even met a few really cool American ex-pats too.
Later this afternoon I went back to the rather intimidating National Library in the hopes of catching an English guided tour to make the building less intimidating and to further understand the style in which it was built (which is very different from anything I have seen before). Well it ended up being a one-on-one tour with me and my tour guide Susanna, this adorable older woman who had great English from studying in the US for a year, who let me know that she gave very long tours which lasted 3 1/2 hours. I was astonished at this to say the least but since I had the rest of my afternoon open I figured why not. Anyway, the tour was really interesting and although the building looks to have about 3 floors it actually has 13 floors, and almost all of its books are kept underground for preservation reasons. It was interesting to see the style of the interior of the building and the very different ways of getting the books that one needed to use and the security measures taken here (you basically could not go anywhere in the library without first putting all your belongings in a locker so you have to take anything you want to study out first). The style is called Brutalism, and basically the whole building follows trends like 360 degrees of windows, hanging floors (they look like they are suspended from the floors above them), ramps throughout, and the use of primary colors only. It was interesting and would have been perfect if it was a bit shorter but overall Susanna was fabulous and very informative!
Okay sorry for the lag time in my posts I have been super busy though (in a very good way). So here is a recap on the past few days of my research and life in BA:
Monday I made my way over to Fundacion IWO, whose mission is to preserve and disseminate the history, culture, and religious ideals of the Jewish community in Argentina. They are a smaller branch of the huge YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in NYC. They house massive amounts of books, archives, and important documents relating to Jewish life particular to the region they are in English, German, Spanish, and Yiddish (although the English section was very limited). The building was very discreet with a simple sign stating IWO with curtains covering all the windows. The interior was littered with books and a very nice man named Ezekiel who helped me find some resources related to my subject. We even got to talking about his own heritage and how his family immigrated here (which seems to be very different with each person I discuss it with). His family was Sephardic and all came from Istanbul, Turkey many years ago, and he was very proud of his Jewish heritage! He was able to bring me some really cool documents created by the JCA, usually on their anniversaries. Needless to say although my conversational Spanish is no where near where it should be to sufficiently live in a Spanish speaking country I am becoming quite good at reading archival documents in Castellano Spanish, since that is what they are all in here. While I was there I also found this amazing book describing each of the JCA farming colonies (and there are a lot more than I realized), the history of the JCA, and about the lives of Jews in BA (and it was all translated into English too!). After looking over this book for hours in awe of its massive amounts of first hand information Ezekiel informed me I could buy it there for only 70 pesos (a little less than $20 USD). So I gladly bought a copy and will definitely be using it for my large paper all this work will culminate in. Needless to say I went back again today (since it is only open M-W) to chat some more with Ezekiel and pour over some more authentic documents on the JCA colonies stating their achievements and ongoings.
The next day I had an appointment with the director of AMIA’s center for Jewish documentation and information (Centro Mark Turkow) in Argentina. We chatted a bit about my research and she told me about the resources they had there, mostly archives. The coolest thing that I came across were hundreds of interviews with inhabitants that had lived on the actual colonies. They talked about their families own immigration tales, their personal lives on the colonies, and what they did later on in life (many were involved in social and workers movements which was interesting). A trend that I kept seeing amongst these interviews were that people loved the colonies but were extremely isolated there simply because they were in the middle of no where and very insular due to their specific cultural and religious beliefs. Many people discussed leaving because they wanted a higher education that could not be provided their, but that the level of education (until about high school) in the colonies was structured (even being taught bilingually in Yiddish and Spanish) and quite good. Another interesting thing I found was that in the earlier years of the colonies they were so isolated that many people never even learned Spanish, and the Argentinean gauchos (similar to American cowboys) that worked for them actually had to pick up some Yiddish in order to work for the colonists. These firsthand accounts were so interesting and I loved being able to pick up on trends within them.
Overall, I have had my most successful week yet, and tomorrow I have a meeting at the big Hillel house in the city so I will update on that experience soon!
Un beso. Ciao, Ciao (as everyone seems to say at the end of a phone call here).
Well yesterday me and a friend went to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay for a nice day trip. It is a small historic town with cobbled streets and riverside views, as it is a peninsula. I absolutely loved Colonia!!! I mean I want to move there and never leave again. It was so quaint, relaxing, everyone was so nice and I did not want to leave. We took the Buquebus ferry there from the port in Buenos Aires, and were very surprised to see that not only is the terminal ultra modern but the ferry was huge with luxurious seats, a cafe on board (obviously since they are everywhere in BA), and a tango show included next to the duty free shop. We took the scenic boat there, which was a 3 hour ride across the Rio de La Plata but it was surprisingly relaxing and went very quickly. When we finally docked in Colonia we immediately had some Chivitos (a uniquely Uruguayan steak sandwich) which was pretty good, but next time I will have to get one with all the toppings at a better qualified place because the cafe we went to for dinner had them and they looked amazing!
So after eating we went to some of the museums in the city. The whole town is centered around the main plaza, where all the restaurants are, in the historic center. The town was actually first settled by the Portuguese and then the Spanish took it over so there is a cool mix of historic Spanish and Portuguese houses and museums. After seeing some museums we walked over to the newer section of the town where they have artisan stores, the usual tourist traps, and lots of restaurant. The coolest part was that we actually stumbled upon soccer game between the national team (Forlan anyone?) and one of the regional squads and they were playing a charity game to build an addition onto a local hospital. It was soo cool and the stadium was packed with fans wearing anything you could imagine with the Uruguayan flag on it, including the flag itself. Anyway, we got to see Forlan score a goal so it was great!
Overall, Colonia was absolutely amazing and I can not wait to visit Montevideo now!
So it is the year of electoral campaigning in Argentina as the race for governmental positions gets closer. I knew this was true, however, today while walking back from an interview that I had I just happened to pass a campaign ad for Sergio Bergman. This ad caught my eye though because the man in it was wearing a kippah! So I was instantly intrigued and did some more digging on his website. It turns out Sergio is the rabbi at one of the oldest and largest congregations in BA and is a decorated citizen of the Jewish community here. I thought this ad was so great because I know historically Jews in Argentina have really been involved in most parts of society here except their seems to be a lack of Jewish presence and representation in the armed forces and the government. So Go Sergio- hopefully if he wins the Jewish community will have a direct advocate in the government!
Well my interview today went very well too. I talked to a woman whose family has deep roots in Argentina, as she is the fourth generation here. It turns out that her family came over to the country in the 1890’s from Ukraine with some of the earliest JCA settlers and settled in the Entre Rios province. She was actually raised in the capital city of that province, meaning her family stayed relatively close although they moved away from the settlement to eventually give their children a higher degree of education as the colonies did not have high schools, and is now a Jewish tour guide in the city. I will admit that I am finding that most of the Jews that I have interviewed so far, regardless of their extreme variation in immigration sagas, really identify with the religion culturally rather than with strict religious practice. It seems that as the generations continue they are involved in the more social aspects of the culture like Jewish clubs or cultural centers (where they learn cultural dances, eat Jewish foods, learn Hebrew, or just do recreational activities with Jewish peers) rather than the more directly affiliated activities (Jewish Day School, involvement in Jewish organizations). Well next week is basically my week to interview people of my generation (in their 20’s) and see if this is really true. I will let you all know how my results turn out!
Oh, I’m going to Colonia in Uruguay (finally, as it took a second trip to the country to make it possible!) for the day on Saturday and I should be making my way to take a quick look at the Jewish population of Montevideo, Uruguay next weekend. I am soooo excited!
Well today was absolutely great and really helped me to hone in on what I really want to focus on while I am in Argentina. I had an 11am appointment with the director of social studies (not the school subject but actual studies) for DAIA (Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas). They are the political reprensentation group for Jewish Argentines and can be found all over the country, although they are most known in BA. The most impressive part of the entire interview and meeting, which the director was kind enough to arrange with me, was physically getting into the beautiful building where the offices are housed.
DAIA is in the same building as AMIA, the Jewish organization that was bombed in 1994 and had 80 people die in this terrorist attack. The Jewish community here stood their ground, made it a point that anti-Semitism was unacceptabe, and rebuilt a beautiful new AMIA building (right in the same place as the old one) with a touching memorial to the victims of the bombing. One of the interesting things that the director mentioned was that these 2 sequential terrorist attacks on the Jewish community actually helped to make anti-Semitism unacceptable in Argentine society. I had never thought have two horrible events such as these actually having a positive effects on the rights of the people they were inflicted on.
So it was no surprise that the security was extremely high getting into the building. Before I could even step foot into the building I was quizzed on my passport, reasons for visiting Argentina, and who I was speaking to while still on the sidewalk outside an enormous door that resembled the vaulted ones banks have. Once inside I immediately had to go through security (the guard was very nice and even spoke English) and go through metal detectors and bag inspection. When I was finally done with these intimidating and dreary tasks you walk through two sets of locked secure doors which you must be buzzed through into a beautiful, wide open, and vibrant courtyard. The courtyard held the memorial to the AMIA bombing victims, plaques honoring the state of Israel, and a little remembrance plaque of the disproportionate amount of Jews that were among the Desaparecidos (disappeared) during the dictatorship of the 1970’s. The building was beautiful, very modern and cheery.
After getting through all that security, admiring the scenery, and getting through the myriad of cameras and journalists that were there (apparently there was a press conference scheduled as soon as I started taking pictures of the courtyard, so look for me in the background of recently published pictures of AMIA officials!) I met the director. She was a very kind, interesting woman who concentrated her passion for human rights on the creation of an annual anti-Semitism report she created for the country, amongst other usual duties. As she began to tell me about her own Jewish identity, her family’s immigration to the country (she was Sephardic), and more about the organization I began to realize how incredibly unique each person’s immigration and way of “being Jewish” truly is. Coming into this research project I expected to see a trend of Ashkenazi Jews coming from the JCA farming colonies, but I have only come across that story once so far (although I still have 2 1/2 weeks to be proven wrong). When asked about their heritage each of the people I have interviewed make it a point that they are Portenos (people of the port as BA’ers refer to themselves as) through and through and that their families have been here for 3 or 4 generations, much like American families. The director also told me about some struggles that the Jewish community faces today, such as the question of dual allegiance to countries (Israel and Argentina) that many people are uninformed of and their work to educate the public on the Jewish community in order to prevent acts of anti-Semitism from occuring (and I got another great contact to help me with the historical aspect of my research).
Overall, the day was a great success, and afterward I got to explore the “Jewish” neighborhood of Once a bit. It was great to see so many people wearing traditional Jewish garb or mainstream clothes with a discreet Yarmulke on. Today I felt informed about the struggles the Jewish community currently faces and the reasons they are facing these problems and loved being able to piece it all together.