Within the context of the policies to promote immigration fostered by Argentina, the first organized presence of Jewish life dates back to the 1860s, when a small group of French, German and English Jewish immigrants created, in 1862, the Congregación Israelita. Those first Jewish immigrants were followed by others coming from the Spanish Morocco, who created their community in 1891.
The real beginning of massive Jewish immigration into the country is related to the arrival of the first organized group of 120 families in the vapor Wesser, on August 14th, 1889. The arrival of this group of Jewish immigrants that was fleeing from the Tsarist Russian pogroms, originates the singular existence of Jewish agricultural colonies in Argentina. This important experience is related to the Baron Maurice Hirsch, a German Jewish philanthropist that created the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA), a found that gave birth to tens of agricultural colonies in different provinces, facilitated the colonists the accesses and tenure of land ant to the needed tools. Provided them with housing and communal life that included schools, socio-cultural centers and synagogues.
The Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) founded, among many others, the colonies of Moises Ville in the Province of Santa Fe, Mauricio and Rivera in the Province of Buenos Aires and Basavilbaso in Entre Ríos. It was there, where the mythical figure of the Jewish Gaucho was born.
The Jewish immigrants showed since the first moment a touching creativity that was expressed in this rural context with the expansion of schools, health centers, new agricultural developments and, quite significantly, with the creation and consolidation of agricultural cooperativism, whose first institution dates back to 1900.
As for the urban context, since the end of the XIX Century there was a massive flow of Jewish immigrants who arrived from Eastern and Central Europe, from Mediterranean countries and from the Middle East. This flow was significant during the first decades of the following century, and it was interrupted during the First World War. It was resumed massively during the 20s, and up until the 30s, when the immigration possibilities were reduced despite the urgent need the Jews had to flee from Nazism in Europe and find a new home where to find refuge. The immigration cycle virtually ends with the arrival of Holocaust survivors in the 40s.
In order to help solve situations immigrants had face upon their arrival, in 1894 the Jevrá Kedushá AMIA was created. This organization developed a scheme of solidarity and mutual aid to ensure sustenance and funding for the creation of schools and cultural centers, to support Zionist groups and to facilitate interaction with the society in general, of which immigrants were beginning to be part.
The immigrants’ creativity began taking form in Buenos Aires, both in the main urban centers and in small locations with the creation of organizations.
Ashkenazi and Sephardic synagogues were created, as well as Yiddish and Hebrew schools, socialist, anarchist, Zionist and traditionalist political Jewish associations were formed, as well as Jewish work unions which had a bond with the national ones, there were newspapers in Spanish, Yiddish, Hebrew and German that published Argentinean literature translated into those languages and Jewish literature translated into Spanish. There were also social, cultural, sports, welfare centers, libraries and theatres.
All these institutions shared the mission of accompanying integration of the Jewish community members into the general society, preserving at the same time their Jewish heritage, their values, ideals, traditions, religious rituals ant the close relationship with Israel as a Jewish state.
During the years of massive immigration, the Jewish immigrants generally began their integration at the base levels of economy, as street vendors, construction workers and craftsmen. The economic and social ascent favored basically by public education and the socio-economic development of the country, allowed them, as well as thousands of other immigrants, a growing integration into the middle class. This progress was especially reflected on their merchant, industrial and professional activities.
Jewish life in Argentina was not free of hard times, moments of pain and confrontation. The Tragic Week in 1919, A worker’s strike that turned into persecutions and killing of Jews is an example of this. So are too the limitations for Jewish immigrants to enter Argentina in the 30s, the presence and dissemination of Nazi ideology in some sectors of society, with war criminals being accepted into the country, the emergence of anti-Semitic and nationalist groups linked to the Arab cause, the violence against Jewish “desaparecidos” during the military dictatorship in the 70s and the terrorist attacks against the Embassy of Israel in 1992 and against AMIA in 1994.
The terrorist attack to AMIA in July, 1994 took 85 lives and left more than 300 wounded. A building holding records of Jewish history destroyed. An open wound that does not closed until today, because no Justice has been served.
Having overcome all these difficult situations throughout almost a century and a half of organized Jewish life in Argentina, the descendants of all those first immigrants have become a part of Argentinean society, with active participation in all spheres of the Argentine society.
The Jewish population calculated today at about 220,000 Jews live in its vast majority (85%) in Buenos Aires and 15% in the interior of the country, in 54 different communities, each one of them with its Kehila, its school, its club and their synagogues.
There are all around the country Jewish schools of all levels and various ideological and religious currents in which around 20,000 students are studying and whose 1,200 teachers of Jewish subjects are trained in local training spaces.
The social and cultural life take place in different clubs and community centers where Jewish music, dance, and cultural experience are transmitted. The strong link with Israel is part of Jewish life and has as protagonists the Zionist youth movements and political groupings. Religious life has its expression in 73 synagogues of different trends where holidays and ceremonies of the Jewish life cycle are celebrated.
AMIA, Jewish Community, founded in 1894 is popularly known as the “mother institution”, the center of community organized life. Its mission is the integrated development of all aspects of Jewish life in Argentina.
Its activities are displayed in: social programs, education, employment and training, culture, spiritual assistance and Jewish burial, space for seniors, preservation of memory, ties with Israel, integration of disabled persons, support the communities of the Interior, activities for youth, and relations with other Jewish communities worldwide.
The Jewish community of the Argentina, still today providing their best effort to the construction of the country and the strengthening of a democratic, pluralist, and fair society based on coexistence in diversity and pluralism.
Curaduría y textos — Ana E. Weinstein, Directora del Centro de Documentación e Información sobre Judaísmo Argentino "Marc Turkow", AMIA
Asistente de curaduría y producción digital — Sabrina Charaf, Asistente del Centro de Documentación e Información sobre Judaísmo Argentino "Marc Turkow", AMIA
Asesor — Gabriel Scherman, Director del Departamento de Socios y Comunicación, AMIA
Colaboradoras — Marina Hayon y Melina Serber, AMIA
Fotografías — Archivo Fotográfico del Centro de Documentación e Información sobre Judaísmo Argentino "Marc Turkow" de AMIA, Archivo General de la Nación, Hogar LeDor VaDor, Sinagoga Or Torah, Alicia Segal, Silvana Luverá, Leonardo Kremenchuzky, Florencia Arbeleche, Manrique Zago, Daniel Caldirola (publicadas en el libro Retratos de una comunidad. Idea, producción y dirección general: Elio Kapszuk. AMIA, 2005).