My Jewish Rosario
When I arrived in Rosario, Argentina for a six-week study abroad program this Summer through the School of Journalism and Communications at my college, I knew only a bit from my Rabbis about the large 110-year-old Jewish population there.
Approximately 0.2% of the entire seven billion people in this world are Jewish. Of that small percentage, about 181,500 live in Argentina; 15,000 in Rosario. How did these Jews end up there? As with most Diaspora populations, it began with expulsion; this time in 1492 from Spain.
Once Argentina gained its independence from Spain in 1810, more immigrants arrived, this time from France. By 1920, more than 150,000 Jews immigrated to Argentina from Europe. When Juan Peron seized power in 1946, Jews worried about his support for the Nazi party. He halted Jewish immigration into Argentina but created diplomatic relations with Israel in 1949.
“There may have been some anti-Semitic attacks in the past, especially during the '70’s or during the Dirty War,” explained Rabino Pablo Lugt, Rabbi at the Kehila Rosario, a conservative synagogue.
Once Peron was overthrown, anti-Semitism rose in Argentina due to the Nazi’s who fled Germany and found refuge there after the Holocaust. Under Argentinian military rule between 1976 and 1983, Jews became part of the 30,000 Argentinians who were tortured at facilities – one of which I toured – displaced from their homes and never heard from again.
Extremely high security was present on my first attempt to enter the Kehila Rosario synagogue. I was turned away, told that I had to present my passport and a letter from school explaining who I am.
When I returned the next day, security knew who I was and buzzed me in. Rabbi Pablo explained the two bombs that exploded in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994. He said security was intensified because,“unfortunately, you never know what can happen here.” The first bomb was at the Israeli Embassy and the second was at the Jewish community center, collectively killing 119 people and wounding more than 100.
One of my more rewarding experiences in Rosario was finding its Conservative Jewish youth movement, Hejalutz Lamerjav. I naturally gravitated towards it because in Los Angeles, I was strongly affiliated with United Conservative Youth (USY). I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with 19-year-old Clari Goldin, who is an active participant.
“Being Jewish is an essential part of my life” she commented as we sat in the back corner of the coffee shop, sipping on our café con leche and intrigued that we could connect so well just because we are both Jewish: “It is part of our identity.” This is a phrase I could relate to well. Both Clari and I were raised Conservative, the key difference is that she's from Rosario and I am from Los Angeles. This was easy to bypass through our shared religious traditions and ideals, experience with Jewish summer camps and youth movements, and our time spent in Israel.
Clari attended a Jewish day school. At age nine, she joined the Hejalutz Lamerjav. After grade school, she spent a year in Israel training to become a leader. She is now a Madricha (counselor), educating young Argentinean Jews on their religion, culture and the State of Israel. But, Clari is frustrated at the growing assimilation of younger generations. “I am proud of and love being Jewish,” she says. “I just want to encourage others to feel the same way.”
When anti-Semitism or anti-Israel rhetoric is present either in Rosario or on social media, Clari stays loud. It is very common in Argentina – and in the US – to hear, “Don’t be so Jewish,” as an insult or stereotype. It’s a label. She explains, “we get used to it, but we try to stop it. You will hear that kind of stuff and see swastikas in the streets, but you know that you are you and are stronger,”
Clari is proud, as am I, to be part of a huge community all around the world. “I can talk to you here because we understand the same things,” she said. “We think the same way. We are family. It’s powerful. It’s something I just feel.”
Hearing someone who lives 5,941 miles from my home echo my opinions on what it means to be young and Jewish gave me a lot of hope for the continuation of the Jewish religion. “My favorite part is belonging to something huge. I know that I have a home no matter what. I have a family no matter what and I want my children and future generations to feel the same way,” says Clari. Rabbi Pablo echoes her words, “The synagogue is the place where a community comes together to find God.” The key word is “together.”
No matter where I am in the world, I can always be “together” with the Jewish community.
Even if we only make up a very small portion of the world’s population, finding a person so similar to me, who understands my family’s history, knows what I’m talking about when I compare the Argentine food, Suprema—a breaded, baked chicken—with my mom’s schnitzel, or who can break a language barrier by some basic knowledge of Hebrew, automatically makes me feel comfortable and at home. As Clari opined, “wherever I go, the Jewish people will truly always make me feel at home.”
Natalie Engler is a resident of Los Angeles, a Sophomore at the University of Oregon and the StandWithUs Emerson Fellow 2016-17