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 de 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 Palermo and Belgrano.
This unit covers the neighborhoods of Villa Crespo, Boca-Barracas, Flores, Palermo and Belgrano and it is completed by three other parts: The first neighborhood “Once” Sites to remember and honor
At the beginning of the 20th century, the neighborhood was a vast area of countryhouses on the way to the cemetery. Its limits were the old Triunvirato St., today Corrientes Ave., now the most important avenue in the City. The whole neighborhood was traversed by the Maldonado stream, a long and tempestuous course that has now been tubed and crosses over ten neighborhoods of the city under the name of Juan B. Justo Ave.
Towards 1920 the immigration flow experienced a new expansión, and many Jewish families moved to Villa Crespo, to live near its Spanish, Italian, Armenian, Greek and Arabian residents. Small tailor shops and humble merchants began to populate its streets. They joined the rest of the immigrants brought by progress and the social growth that could be observed in the modernized stores, as well as the multiple institutions and public events.
In the midst of that hellish chaos one can sometimes capture the sound of a song in Yiddish or a religious tune. One looks around. Where does that melancholic and endearing chant come from? And one discovers an old and shabby carriage, a covered cart, broken and discolored, pulled by an old and wasted mare in her last breath. Sitting on its bench is the rider, who chants those religious melodies. He is an old coachman who distracts himself chanting while he rides. He carries pieces of fabric in his cart, which he delivers to the big tailoring stores along Canning St.
A fragment from the tale “A orillas del Maldonado” by Naum Milleritsky. Adapted from the Spanish translation by Eliahu Toker, originally written in Yiddish
The Jews who settled in that area were on the poor side and more traditional than orthodox in their religious observance. There was a mix of socialist, anarchist and labor union ideas brought in by the newcomers. During the first stage of integration, many settled in “conventillos” (collective housing), like the famous “La Paloma”. Except for a few of them, these immigrants did not speak Spanish. They were mostly carpenters, tailors, door-to-door salesmen and weavers.
The door-to-door salesman was known as cuéntenik, because he carried the cards of the customers that they used as a sort of credit account, so that the poor women of the neighborhood could access products that could only be found in the big stores.
They materialized an active Jewish community life by building different schools in line with their ideologies, their linguistic and religious preferences. Synagogues and Art and Culture and Social Community Centers were also part of this new landscape.
It was frequently possible to identify the origin of the inhabitants of a particular street by just mentioning its name. While Corrientes was the street of the Ashkenazi community, Gurruchaga was the street preferred by the Sephardic Jews.
The creation of institutions was matched by the appearance of pubs, coffees and Jewish Food delis, an imprint in gastronomy that Villa Crespo still maintains and is today one of its attractions.
Bohemian Villa Crespo
Café San Bernardo opened in 1912 and it was, for decades, one of the most popular among leaders of culture and Jewish immigrants. It was the meeting point when they needed some distraction, and dominoes were the games of choice for those originally from Eastern Europe.
For those who had arrived from the Mediterranean, Café y Bar Izmir on Gurruchaga 432 was their place of choice. It had opened in the twenties and it was the place were Sephardic Jews gathered around Backgamon tables, to enjoy the orchestra playing Eastern tunes and the dance of odalisques, or even engage in theological and political debates with the Greeks and Armenians, who practiced other religions.
...It was in Villa Crespo [...] It was indeed the most “tanguero” quarter. It was where I found it less difficult to know where I was: there were the embankment on the railway over Dorrego and Corrientes, and the quiet streets except on Sunday afternoons when Atlanta played, and the low houses, and some gardens, the factory, a street named Camargo. Listen lady, that sounds good… “C’amargo: a very “tango” name...
A fragment from the tale “Tanguero” by Santiago Dubcovsky.
“Camargo” contains the word “amargo” (bitter, in English). Its pronunciation could be heard as “qué amargo”, meaning “how bitter”. Tango music tends to convey bittersweet memories and experiences, so the author plays with the word stating it is suitable for a Tango.
It was emphatically stated that all Jews arrived from Damascus lived on the South area of the city, East and West of Patricios Ave., between Boca and Barracas. By the 1900s they had already created an institution on Almirante Brown St. and, with time, they added new and divers institutions.
Synagogue Or TorahAMIA Jewish Community in Argentina
Or Torá, an imposing synagogue on Brandsen 1444 stands out in beauty and originality with its front of Arabian reminiscence. The social and educational life of families revolved around these institutions, in a neighborhood where, a few blocks away, the Italian immigrants had created their own lifestyle and peculiarities. And still, during National Holidays, the schools attended by the children of these immigrants came together at the public square to sing the National Anthem together, regardless of their origins.
“Rosh Hashanah –our new year, followed by Yom Kipur and Sucot- was around the corner. The three main celebrations of our creed… At Bené Emeth, the Society that reunited the Jewish community of La Boca, from Almirante Brown to the end of Patricios and Montes de Oca (…), the leadership believed that the celebration of our major festivities needed a broader stage than the Synagogue of the weekly ceremonies. To this end, a contract was closed with the Sociedad Italiana José Verdi”.
A fragment from the book Crónica de una familia Sefaradí, by Estela Levy.
Along this long history, the restoration of the Zincov synagogue, founded in 1931 by Ashkenazi immigrants, begins a new page in the story of Jewish presence in the neighborhood of La Boca.
A traditional neighborhood characterized by big weekend houses and flowery gardens attracted many door-to-door salesmen of Sirian Sephardic origin. They chose to leave Barracas to sell their fabrics and apparel to new publics. Flores offered them the chance to open their stores and also live there, with their own institutions, schools and multiple synagogues.
Agudat Dodim (1954) by Centro Marc TurkowAMIA Jewish Community in Argentina
The Damascenes were pioneers with their establishment of their Asociación Agudat Dodim in 1913. After them came the Aleppinians with their own synagogue in 1925 called Shaarei Sión.
The important presence of these immigrants and their descendants gave way –and still do- to the proliferation of grocery stores and kosher butcher shops, as well as pubs and traditional shops than can still be found around the area.
Although fewer in number, there were some Ashkenazi Jews who settled in Flores and their presence was reflected on the creation of the institution after the name of Chaim Weitzman in 1913 on Varela 850 and the Hospital Israelita on Terrada 1164 in 1921.
With time, these organizations would be joined by others, as the community and the neighborhood grew north and southwards into what today is known as Flores Sur and Flores Norte.
Belgrano is a neighborhood located towards de North of the city, and it was filled with luxurious manors and big mansions surrounded by tall trees. Towards de end of the 19th century, the National Government settled there, and this determined a very affluent population with many English and German residents. When deciding where to settle, the style of this neighborhood felt familiar for the Jewish immigrants arriving from Eastern Europe in the thirties. They particularly valued the cultural life and the surroundings.
These immigrants created many institutions and incorporated new religious, educational, social and cultural styles. This is the neighborhood where Bet El was foundes in 1962. It is the first community that adheres to the Conservative Masorti Movement and years later the center of a significant impact in the Jewish religious composition in Argentina.
In 1964, under the leadership of Rabbi Marshall Meyer and directly related to the Bet El Community, the Latin American Rabbinic Seminary opened its doors to train Rabbis under the Conservative Movement.
It was also in Belgrano that the first Reformist Congregation in Argentina –Emanu El- was founded in 1964. Its venue opened in 1973.
A few blocks away from one another you can find the Orthodox Ashkenazi synagogue Ajdut Israel and the Aleppinian Sephardic Or Mizrah, which give Belgrano a completely diverse religious landscape, particularly evident during the Jewish festivities.
It is a large neighborhood of Buenos Aires, mostly residential, with big green spaces and parks. In its beginnings it was filled with sumptuous manor houses that are today renovated and have been turned into modern buildings and stores for upper middle class publics of which the Jewish Community of the city is part. Young professionals and entrepreneurs, native third generations in the midst of their social ascent, found in Palermo a suitable environment to improve their quality of life, away from their original quarters.
This is how in the sixties new Jewish institutions with original offers, newer and more modern, opened their doors. Some examples are the Martín Buber School on Armenia 2300, Yeshurun School of the Spehardic Community in República de la India 3000 and a new venue of the pioneer Moroccan community on Jorge Luis Borges 1900. This new offer was also accompanied by new options in Jewish gastronomy.
The City of Buenos Aires is a dynamic ever-changing area. With time, some areas took on theme names, like “Villa Freud”, an informal name given in the sixties to the area around Plaza Güemes where two important cafés opened their doors: Sigi and Freud.
The laughable reference in this name accounts for the important presence of clinics and centers of psychoanalytic attention making a wink in particular to the high percentage of Jewish professionals strengthening the notion that Buenos Aires is one of the cities with the largest percentage of psychologists per inhabitant.
In the meantime?
The corner of Güemes and Scalabrini Ortiz..
Fragment of the poem “Bar Mitzvá”, by Tamara Kamenszain.
The structure of a big city like Buenos Aires changes continuously. Some places retain their appearance almost intact, as privileged testimony of the passage of time. But others appear transformed, and only through photographs or imagination can we fully appreciate them in their full dimension. And then there are the new urban spaces that contribute their own mark to a history of centuries. Today, the Jewish Community of Argentina is the sixth largest in the world, and it contributes its best to the country and its society through its multiple institutions.
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, Martin Buber School, Enrique Frommer, Pedro Roth, Or Torah Sinagogue, Manrique Zago.