Jewish Tours

Buenos Aires, Argentina


ARGENTINA, South American Federal Republic, general population (2004) 39,150,000; Jewish population 190,000.

Community Organization

DAIA, the political representative of the Jewish community vis-à-vis society at large and the government, celebrated the 70th anniversary of its existence in 2005. All those years DAIA maintained its leading position in the community, through difficult periods of political, social, and economic upheaval, by adhering to a self-imposed restriction: no identification with any Argentinean party or political faction. This attitude during the first presidency of Juan Perón (1946–55), who pressured the community institutions to identify with him, endangered to some extent the freedom of action of DAIA when a competitive Peronist Jewish organization (Organización Israelita Argentina – OIA) was established by Jewish Peronists.

DAIA was sharply criticized for its position during the period of the military junta, 1976–83, when the regime acted criminally against the opposition and the civilian population in general. In those difficult years DAIA decided to maintain a low profile and avoid outright defiance of the junta that would make things even worse for the Jewish community. On the other hand, thousands of the victims and the families of the vanished Jews (at least a thousand), many members of the community, and some observers analyzing the events of that period, argue that DAIA did not speak out strongly enough against the cruel dictatorship and on behalf of the regime's Jewish victims.

The second umbrella organization founded in 1952, the Va'ad ha-Kehillot (Federation of Argentine Jewish Communities), included all the Jewish institutions in Argentina – Ashkenazi and Sephardi – on a federative basis. Nevertheless, AMIA, which was instrumental in organizing the federation, continued to play a dominant role. While constituents from the provinces sometimes complained that the Buenos Aires administration maintained excessive control, the federation remained the only body dealing with widely different services – spiritual and religious, culture, education, and social welfare – throughout the country. This supremacy of AMIA inspired the organization of a separate Sephardi umbrella organization, ECSA, and after its dismantlement in 1998, a new one was established in October 2002, the Federación Sefaradí de la República Argentina – FESERA – with the participation of 66 Sephardi institutions.

In the second half of the 20th century ideological trends changed. The left-wing non-Zionist movements, such as the Anarchists, the Bundists, and also the Jewish Communists, became irrelevant. With the establishment of the State of Israel, the antisemitic trials in Communist countries, and the Six-Day War (1967), many supporters of the Bund and the Communists crossed the lines and embraced Zionism, most of them in the left-wing factions. The traditional Zionist parties, whose roots were in the communities of origin, were close to the Israeli parties and sometimes became dependent on their political and financial support. The political leadership of the Ashkenazi community – AMIA, which was maintained in the 1940s by leaders of the financial institutions, and the landsmanshaftn together with the leftist anti-Zionist sector – was dominated by a coalition of the Zionist parties after the democratic elections of the beginning of the 1950s. This transition was felt in some way also in the Ladino-speaking Sephardi community and later in the Damascene community.

In the 1970s two new organizations emerged. One was based on sports and recreation organizations, including the four big clubs of Buenos Aires (Hebraica, Maccabi, Hakoach and the Sephardi Club CASA), a number of similar but smaller organizations in the Greater Buenos Aires area, and all the communal organizations in Argentina. These institutions, which grew to include social and family activities and some attempts at informal education, and embraced tens of thousands of Jews, enabled the leaders of the new organization to claim that they were representing most of the Jewish public. This organization was called FACCMA – Federación Argentina de Centros Comunitarios Macabeos – and was affiliated with the World Maccabi Organization based in Tel Aviv.

The second organization was the Conservative movement, which after 30 years of activity had become in the 1990s a well-established movement of more than 20 congregations with synagogues, social activities for youth and adults, and some of them maintaining day schools. These congregations had thousands of members in Buenos Aires and other cities in the country and a spiritual leadership from the graduates of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano.

These two organizations cooperated to a certain degree and were instrumental in the creation in 1983 of a new group called Brerá – Movimiento de Integración y Renovación Comunitaria. The group was established to give voice to the new goals and views of the part of the community that was not connected to the existing Zionist parties, and to take part in the communal elections. In both the organizations that helped create Brerá, the inclusion of members of the various Jewish ethnic groups was more prominent. In the two AMIA elections in which Brerá ran (May 1984 and May 1987) it came in second to Avoda – the Zionist Labor Party. In the next election (May 1990) Brerá ran in the Lista Unidad Comunitaria, and in the election of May 1993 it did not run at all, claiming that the election procedures were fraudulent. In fact, the ranks of Brerá dwindled when the Conservative movement established its own party – Masorti – abandoning its alliance with Brerá and reaching an understanding with Avoda. In this manner, the latter maintained its hold on the community leadership.

In the middle of the 1990s a new political group, Menorah, began to emerge under the leadership of Rubén *Beraja. Because of his leading position in one of the foremost Jewish financial institutions of the 1980s and 1990s, Beraja enjoyed senior status in the community. Following his election as chairman of the DAIA, to a great extent due to the support of Brerá, Beraja, an active member of the community of Aleppo, became known even outside the boundaries of Argentina and was elected vice president of the World Jewish Congress and chairman of the Latin American Jewish Congress. In late 1998 and 1999, Beraja's standing was undermined by financial difficulties in the Banco Mayo, of which he was director and there were accusations of mismanagement. As a result, Beraja ceased all public activity and Menorah dissolved. Since then, the position of the representatives of the traditional Zionist parties has been reinforced. Nevertheless, in the elections of April 2005 only 3,000 of the approximately 13,000 members with voting rights out of a total of around 40,000 members participated.

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