Argentine Jewry

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



In 1890, the German born Jewish entrepreneur Maurice Hirsch had accumulated $100 Million by developing a railroad linking Constantinople, or Istanbul, to Europe.

This achievement may seem puny to us today but constituted as much progress in transportation as space travel has meant now. Hirsch was a successful banker who was elevated to French nobility and called Baron d’Hirsch. Hirsch gave huge amounts of money to numerous Jewish causes including a considerable sum aimed at settling Russian Jews in Argentina and Brazil. The money was used to buy agricultural land with a view of giving dispossessed Jews a new home in the New World. This occurred in 1892 and led to the founding of a Jewish community in Argentina which now is declining rapidly, leading to considerable immigration of Argentine Jews to Israel.

It is ironic that Hirsch refused to help Theodore Herzl to locate Jews in Israel at that time. Hirsch considered the establishment of a Jewish State a fantasy. This was of course also true of many other Jews. Now it turns out that the development of a permanent Jewish community in Argentina is a fantasy and that despite the war launched against Israel by the Arab hate mongers it is Israel which is coming to the rescue of the Argentine Jews.

There are several reasons for the decline of the Jewish community in Argentina. First and foremost is of course the permanent curse of religious bigotry which is as strong in Argentina as anywhere else. In addition, however, Argentina has become an economic disaster area, so that numerous non-Jewish Argentines have applied for immigration to Italy and Spain, countries from which their ancestors migrated to South America. These countries have not been receptive to this immigration effort.

Israel, however, has welcomed any Jews from Argentina willing to come and make aliyah. As a result, 1,500 Jews from Argentina arrived in Israel last year and a greater number is expected this year. There are about 250,000 Jews in Argentina who were at one time middle class people if they were not upper class, financially. At its peak the Jewish population of Argentina included 350,000 people.

Today, 25% of the Jews in Argentina live below the poverty line. This came about as the government devalued the peso, leading to Jewish prostitution, begging in the streets and the closing of synagogues and Jewish schools.

This is not he first time that Argentine Jews have come to Israel in greater numbers. In the 1970’s Argentina was ruled by a military dictatorship responsible for the disappearance, i.e. murder of innumerable Argentine citizens, including many Jews. This led to the immigration of about 20,000 Jews to Israel at that time. Then, in 1992 the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed by Arabs and in 1994 the largest Jewish community center was also bombed by Arabs. The Argentine government did nothing to bring the killers to justice but instead covered up the connection between the Arab murderers and members of the Argentine governing elite. This led to more Jewish emigration so that there are now 80,000 Argentine Jews in Israel.

Today, the situation of the Argentine Jews is so serious that emergency measures for increased aliyah to Israel have been undertaken by the Jewish Agency. Right now, 6,000 Jewish families are in the process of moving to Israel from Argentina and the number is growing each day. The cost of resettling a family of four in Israel is $67,460.-

One more note on the “irony of history”. Some Argentine Jews have moved to Spain, from which all Jews were expelled in 1492, leading to the discovery of the New World by the descendant of Jewish converts or “marranos” (i.e. “swine”), Christobal Colombo.

“Der Mensch denkt, und Gott lenkt”.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Stigma:  How We Treat Outsiders.

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