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The Jewish community in Argentina is more than one hundred years old and, in fact, Argentina was once the fourth Jewish community in the world. Only a few years ago half a million Jews lived in the country. 

The JCCSF trip Discover Jewish Argentina took place last month with 14 participants. I had visited Argentina more than twenty times but this was the first time I did it with Jewish eyes which made this trip very special and different from prior visits.

Our trip began in Buenos Aires , center of Argentine Jewish life and a metropolis of more than ten million people. We were guided by a member of the Community who took us to two synagogues, several Jewish neighborhoods and the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina ); the most important Jewish institution in the country. We attended a Shabbat service at Templo Libertad, the largest synagogue in the city.

AMIA is the building that was destroyed in the July 1994 terrorist attack that killed 85 people. This terrorist act followed the attack and destruction of the Israeli embassy in March 1992. Both of these events mark distinct before and after periods in the Jewish life of the capital. Security is very tight and these rebuilt institutions but despite these tragedies, the Jewish community of Buenos Aires is full of life and AMIA works hard to address present-day challenges without forgetting the past. The new embassy of Israel has been constructed in a new location and the Jewish Community continues to demand answers from the Government in order to punish those responsible for these terrorist attacks.

Buenos Aires is the city of tango, barbecue, great museums, antique fairs and the Casa Rosada (Pink House) made famous by the speeches that Evita Perón used to deliver from its balcony. These sites and customs were part of our visit too.

After a one and a half hour flight we arrived in the city of Santa F . This city of 500,000 is one of the oldest in Argentina and is home to a relatively small Jewish community. We visited the Haim Nachman Bialyk Jewish School as well as the local synagogue.

We departed Santa Fe very early and after a three hour bus ride we arrived in Moisesville. This town (practically unheard of in the United States ) marked the beginning of Jewish life in Latin America . In 1889 Moisesville was founded by the philanthropist Maurice Hirsch, founder of the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA.)

The first settlers to Moisesville came from Russia . Subsequent waves of Polish and German immigrants followed. These Jews journeyed not only from the old world to the new; they adopted a new language and had to become accustomed to a new climate and way of life. Once artisans and trades people, in the New World they became Gauchos Judios (Jewish Cowboys). Despite the dramatic changes to their circumstances, these settlers maintained their traditions by creating schools, synagogues and other Jewish institutions. In the 1950s there were approximately 5,000 Jews living in Moisesville; today there are around 300 and they comprise 10% of the total population.

We visited the Baron Hirsch Synagogue, the Brenner Synagogue (designated by UNESCO as one of the worlds one hundred at-risk cultural heritage, the Nahum Goldman Museum and the Jewish cemetery.

One of the loveliest moments was at lunch; we were honored with a traditional Jewish lunch including delicious knishes and kreplach. Moisesville is very isolated and not easy to reach but the JCCSF Travel Program accomplished one of its goals of visiting and learning about Jewish life in obscure locations around the world.

We finished the voyage in Iguazu Falls , arguably the most beautiful natural wonder of the world. This place on the border between Brazil and Argentina is home to the powerful Iguazu River , the majestic waterfalls, a lush subtropical forest and amazing jungle animals. We visited both the Argentine and the Brazilian sides of the falls and enjoyed getting soaked in an unforgettable boat ride

Argentina is a complex country with a unique history, diverse landscapes, a multifaceted society and incredible natural wonders. The JCCSF Travel Program was able to fashion a journey that explored all of these elements, in addition to examining the lesser-known but no less fascinating aspect of Argentina ’s Jewish history and culture. We are very lucky to have had the opportunity to experience such a varied sampling of all that Argentina has to offer and we look forward to operating similar programs to explore Jewish history and life against a cultural backdrop of the many different countries throughout the world which have been or continue to be a home to local Jewish communities.

Ariel G

Travel Program Manager & Spanish Teacher


San Francisco CA USA

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