Argentina has one of the largest Jewish populations in the world. Jewish immigrants first arrived in Argentina with the founding of the new continent, and continued to immigrate to the country ever since. The vast majority of the Jews who came to Argentina are Ashkenazi, originating from Central and Eastern Europe. Argentinean Jews have both historically held, and continue to hold, important positions in business, politics, the professions, and the arts. Further information on taking a Jewish Tour of Buenos Aires and Argentina.
Jewish immigration to Argentina occurred in three great waves: Phase 1-- discovery of the Americas coincided with the expulsion of Jews from Spain; Phase 2--Three centuries later, the liberal immigration policies of a newly independent Argentina (1810) brought many French Jews; and finally, Phase 3-- a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century brought an influx of immigrats from that region. Reports of anti-Semitism were rare in Argentina before World War I, but the 1918 Russian Revolution inspired attacks against Argentina's recent Jewish-Russian immigrants. During a general strike in 1919, many Jews in Buenos Aires were robbed, beaten, or had their properties burned.
In the nineteenth and twentieth century, many Jews in Argentina spoke Yiddish, built schools and synagogues and became gauchos, or cowboys. They formed settlements such as "Moisesville" and "Claraville," among others. A film on that subject entitled "The Jewish Gauchos" (1975) was made by the daughter of popular Argentine-Jewish writer Alberto Gerchunof. Today, the colonies are practically abandoned by Jewish residents, as most of the descendants of the original Jewish settlers have moved to big cities.
The educational and cultural life of the Jews in Argentina has been rich. At one time there were approximately 70 Jewish schools throughout the country. These institutions provided their students with both an outstanding secular and an exceptional Jewish education. Many of the students were able to speak fluent Hebrew and studied for a semester or a year in Israel.
Unfortunately, the country's relatively tolerant attitude toward its Jewish population changed in the 1970s. During the "dirty war," military juntas killed thousands of leftists, communists and Jews. At that time, the military government declared that they were cleansing the country to make it a Christian nation, free from corruption and free of dissidents. The cruel methods they employed were to arrest and then torture anyone whom they thought might be opposed to their ideas. Many people disappeared (estimates up to as many as 30,000 including some 2,000 Jews) whose bodies were never found.
In 1983, Raul Alfonsin was elected president with strong support from the Jewish community. He later appointed many Jews to high positions within the new government. In the final year of his administration, the Argentine parliament passed a law banning racism and anti-racism. When Carlos Menem, a Moslem, became president in 1989 (he had to convert to Catholicism first), he visited Israel, offered to mediate the Arab-Israeli peace process, and ordered an investigation into Argentina's role as a haven for Nazi war criminals.
Despite such efforts to include Jews in Argentine society and politics, the Israeli Embassy was bombed in 1992, killing 32 people. Two years later, the headquarters of Buenos Aires' Jewish community was bombed, killing 85 and wounding at least 200 more. Local police officers were suspected of collaborating with Iranian militants in the attack. No one was found guilty of the horrible crimes (the government avoided appropriate investigation) and justice has not yet prevailed. A grassroots community, Memoria Activa, formed to follow-up where government investigation was sorely lacking.
Argentine Jews Today
The Argentine Jewish community has been in decline since the financial crisis of 2001. The crisis brought poverty on to many middle-class professionals, a group to which many Argentinean Jews belonged. Following the crisis, many Jewish families found affording the fees to go to Jewish schools over-taxing, and a number of schools were forced to close down. The Jewish community is also experiencing a drop in numbers due to thousands of people moving to Israel, one of the few countries allowing immigration to foreigners. Many Argentineans are looking to leave their country due to the financial hardships that the country is experiencing, but many do not have the means with which to leave and resettle elsewhere. Israel assists Argentine Jews move out of Argentina by providing the funds to leave and a number of subsidies upon arrival in Israel.
It has been claimed that there are more Jewish organizations per Jewish inhabitants in Buenos Aires than in any other city in the world. Argentine Jews have one principal political organization, the Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA) that was founded in 1939 to protect Jewish rights. Another central organization is the AMIA, which provides health and human service needs to Ashkenazi Jews.
Jews remain well-represented in the country's business, political, professional, and arts communities. The only professions that Jews are absent from are the military's higher ranks and the judicial branch of government.
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