It was 1938, during Kristallnact, or Night of Broken Glass when Jewish homes, shops, villages and towns were ransacked and set on fire. My father was 15 years old when he heard a knock at the door of the 1 bedroom apartment he shared with his 7 siblings, mother and father in Bedzin, Poland. The Germans were there to take my grandfather away but my father talked the men at the door into taking him instead. He never saw anyone in his family alive again. My father survived 8 concentration work camps, a year long stay in a hospital when the camps were liberated in May, 1945, as he was down to 65 pounds, when he crossed a boat to arrive in New York, alone. He was able to rebuild a life for himself in California and passed down the importance of being a Jew to me. I moved to Israel when I was 20 years old to work on a kibbutz and study Hebrew. Since then I have always had a life long love of Judaism. A large part of my attraction in wanting to discover and explore Buenos Aires was my understanding of a large Jewish population.
Argentina has one of the greatest communities of Jews in Central & South America, around 250,000; of that 200,000 live in Buenos Aires. The population is 85% Ashkenazi and 15% Sephardi Jews. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, many Jews settled in Argentina. At the end of the 19thcentury, Jews fled the pogroms and poverty in Russia and because the policy of immigration was an open door, another wave of Jews headed for Argentina. Jews were persecuted for political activities and from the original 500,000, we now have 200,000. Many left to Venezuela, U.S. and Israel.
A Jewish tour of Buenos Aires brought me to AMIA-which was founded to promote the individual, family and growth of Jewish life in Argentina. It’s truly an umbrella for the Jewish community. In 1992, AMIA was bombed and 29 people were killed. On July 18, 1994, a car was driven into the center which killed 85 people including many children. This bomb imposed a new era where the community prioritized justice and preserved the legacy of a rich cultural tradition that honors life. The new building has barriers in front so no car could drive through now. No justice has ever been served for the innocent men, women and children who died. Justice is a word that seems to provoke many emotions for me as no justice was ever served by the man who abused my mother. But I digress.
I wish I could have seen all 80 synagogues in Buenos Aires in my time there. I visited the Paso synagogue and the oldest synagogue in Buenos Aires; Libertad. Olivia managed to find a moment for her favorite past time; reading. Buenos Aires has one of the world’s four remaining Yiddish daily newspapers. Others are found in Paris, Tel Aviv and Birobidjan, in Siberia.
In spite of the ups and downs of antisemitism, especially, but not only, during military repressions, Jews have played an important role in industry, commerce, the arts, literature, journalism, and also in politics.
You can hire a lovely, older Jewish couple to do half and full day tours tailored to your interests.