Mi Buenos Aires judío: The first neighborhood

AMIA Jewish Community in Argentina

The title of the exhibition, literally: My Jewish Buenos Aires, is a wordplay related to “Mi Buenos Aires querido”, a tango sung by the iconic Carlos Gardel. The exhibition itself is comprised of four parts and explores the diverse history of the urban Jewish community in the City of Buenos Aires. Its streets contain physical evidence and subtleties of its presence and a story that is still being written.

Although the Jewish immigrants and their families settled in many of the neighborhoods of the city, seven in particular are the most representative. The first important settlement was around Lavalle Square in the 19th century. With time, the settlement expanded towards Once, Boca-Barracas, Villa Crespo and Flores, and later to the more contemporary areas of Palermo and Belgrano.

This unit related to Lavalle Square is then completed by three other parts:
Between “knishes” and “burekas”
Sites to remember and honor

Argentina has generously received immigration flows throughout its history. The first Jewish presence dates back to the second half of the 19th century, with the arrival of a small group of French, German and English Jews. This first group was joined by immigrants from Morocco a few decades later, in 1889, when a hundred and twenty families created the Jewish agricultural colony Moisés Ville in the Province of Santa Fe. This colony was the first of many other communities which later were settled in different provinces of Argentina.

I now step on the trail of my dreams
How many eyes look back on that shore?
So many ships that arrive from strange lands
And leave back into distant coasts.

A Fragment from the poem "A orillas de Buenos Aires" (“On The Shores of Buenos Aires”), by Moishe Knaphais.
Adapted from the Spanish translation by Perla Sneh, originally written in Yiddish

There was a massive flow of Jewish immigrants who arrived from Eastern and Central Europe, countries around the Mediterranean and the Middle East along a period of four decades. The majority of these immigrants settled in the City of Buenos Aires.

Along the history of these settlements, from the narrow streets in the first neighborhood and along the way on other traditional or more contemporary districts, the groups of immigrants preserved some of the diverse forms of Jewish life that evoked their homelands. With time and through generations, the coexistence with other groups of immigrants shaped a solid Jewish-Argentinian identity and sense of belonging.

The neighborhood is the urban core of a city, a time and space with a history, with benchmarks and special dates. It is the place where the main events of public and private life take place. It is the stage where the scenes of everyday life come together in its streets, squares, monuments, and through its people we discover images of our own memory.

Lavalle Square
The current Square was a wasteland at the beginning of the 19th century. It became of importance to the city when the Parque de Artillería was built. Towards 1857 the new Train Station in its surroundings gave the final shape to the landscape and turned the area into an important center of urban life. Lavalle Square became one of the most attractive spots for the Ashkenazi Jews who had just arrived from Eastern Europe.

By 1895, 62% of the Jewish Community lived in the area between the streets of Lavalle, Viamonte, Libertad and Talcahuano. That’s where the first ethnic restaurants, libraries and rudimentary tailoring workshops opened. It was also the place where the first Yiddish press pieces where processed and published. This was the merry context in which the Congregación Israelita (CIRA), founded in 1862 by a small group of French, German and English Jewish immigrants, flourished. Their temple, built in 1897 on Libertad St., was the first ever in this city. During festivities, one could see the top hats of the gentlemen in the Congregation, mixed with the caps of less affluent attendants.

He had finally arrived at the country of the silver river. Mendl remained for five days and their full nights in that huge and filthy wooden artifact called “Hotel de Inmigrantes”, built on the shores of the turbid stream, beside the Argentinian Grand Central Train Station. Once out of there, he headed for “Plaza Lavalle”, since he had been told in the ship that it was the place where he would find a labor exchange office for Jewish immigrants.

Fragment of "Mendl Maler" by Pinie Wald, circa 1900.
Adapted from the Spanish translation by Eliahu Toker, originally written in Yiddish

The Temple on Libertad St. was named National Historical Monument in December 2000.

As for the Jews who came from Spanish Morocco towards the end of the 19th century, they brought their own institutions to the neighborhood, expanding their reach to the South of the city.

Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue

It is most poignant to confirm that, over a century later, that same corner of the city became an iconic symbol of memory for Argentinian society. It was there where, a month after the terrorist attack against AMIA on July 18, 1994, thousands of people rallied to the Court Palace to demand a proper investigation.

It was in this same Lavalle Square that, for ten years in a row, the group Memoria Activa gathered to demand justice every Monday at 9.53 AM, the time when the bomb exploded. It is also the spot where the monument by Mirta Kupferminc to honor the 85 victims was placed as a testimony of eternal memory in the heart of Buenos Aires.

The complex structure of a big city like Buenos Aires changes with time. Some sites preserve their original appearance as a testimony of the passage of time. Yet others appear transformed, and only pictures and imagination allow us to truly appreciate them in their whole historical dimension. And then there are those new urban spaces that contribute their own mark to centuries of history.
The Jewish Community of Argentina is today the sixth largest in the world. And it contributes its best to the country and its society through its multiple institutions.

AMIA Jewish Community in Argentina
Credits: Story

Curation and texts — Ana E. Weinstein, Director of the "Marc Turkow" Center of Documentation and Information on Argentine Judaism, AMIA
Curation and digital production assistant — Gabriel Feldman, Assistant at the "Marc Turkow" Center of Documentation and Information on Argentine Judaism, AMIA
Adviser — Gabriel Scherman, Director of the Communication and Press Division, AMIA
Translation into English — Mariana Gelaf
Photos — Photo Archive of the "Marc Turkow" Center of Documentation and Information on Argentine Judaism, AMIA, Archivo General de la Nación, Mundo Israelita, Museo de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Alicia Segal.

Credits: All media
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