Argentina is home to nearly 200,000 Jews, making it the largest community in Latin America and the seventh largest in the world. The majority of Argentine Jews are Ashkenazi, with roots in Central and Eastern Europe, although there is a sizable Sephardic minority. Diverse in terms of religious and cultural affiliation, as well as in socioeconomic terms, the Jewish community of Argentina plays a prominent role in industry, commerce, politics, the liberal professions and the arts. The Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA) is the formal Argentinian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, but there is a long-standing cooperation between the DAIA and the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), which participates actively in meetings of the WJC Plenary Assembly and Governing Board under the DAIA umbrella.
President: Ariel Cohen Sabban, also a WJC Vice President
CEO: Victor Garelik
President: Agustin Zbar
CEO: Daniel Pomerantz
Jews have lived in the territory that now constitutes Argentina for centuries, with many of the earliest Jewish settlers seeking refuge from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Despite the centuries of Jewish settlement, however, there is little record of Jewish life in the country prior to the 19th century. Beginning in 1854, Argentina experienced several waves of Jewish immigration, leading to the establishment in 1862 of the Israelite Congregation of Buenos Aires, the first Jewish institution in the country. Immigration sped up in the 1880s with the arrival of significant numbers of eastern European Jews escaping the pervasive anti-Semitism and violence of Czarist Russia. It was at this time that a number of Jewish agricultural settlements were established by Baron Maurice de Hirsch through the Jewish Colonization Association, giving rise to the mythical figure of the Jewish gaucho or cowboy. During the period leading up to World War I, this primarily Ashkenazi population was bolstered with the arrival of Jews from the Levant. In 1884, the country’s various Jewish organizations united in what would later come to be called the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) and would evolve into Argentina’s central Jewish institution. The Jewish community began urbanizing and in the decades after the war, there was little sign left of the country’s once flourishing Jewish agricultural communities.
The World Jewish Congress has had a strong connection to the Argentinian Jewish community ever since six Argentinian delegates were among the founders of the WJC in Geneva in August of 1936. The Latin American Jewish Congress, headed today by Adrian Werthein, is the WJC’s regional affiliate. In March 2016, the WJC held a special plenary assembly in Buenos Aires. Claudio Epelman, the executive director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, serves as the WJC’s Commissioner for Interfaith Relations.
During the 1930s, Jews fleeing the rise of European fascism began making their way to Latin America, including Argentina. In response, the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) created the Avigdor colony to accommodate Central European Jews fleeing Hitler. Following the Second World War, around 8,000 Jewish refugees arrived in Argentina. They were accompanied by around 5,000 former Nazis who escaped Europe with the aid of former Argentine President Juan Peron, whose government established escape routes through Spain and Italy. The most famous of these was Adolf Eichmann, one of the primary organizers of the Holocaust. He was kidnapped by agents of Israeli intelligence in 1960 and brought to Israel, where he was subsequently tried and executed.
In 1992 the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed, killing 22 people and wounding a further 242. The United States blamed Hezbollah, claiming that the Lebanese terrorist organization had perpetrated the attack on behalf of Iran.
Two years later, a car bomb exploded in front of the AMIA building in downtown Buenos Aires, killing 85 and wounding 300. It was the largest terrorist attack in Argentinian history. Investigations into the bombing, for which Iran was also blamed, have continued until the present day. In 2015, following years of judicial irregularities, government prosecutor Alberto Nisman, himself a member of the Jewish community, accused then-President Cristina Kirchner of covering for Iran. Soon after, Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment.
Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated the Argentine Jewish community to number approximately 180,700 as of 2003, making it the largest community in Latin America and the seventh largest in the world. About 70% of the total Jewish population of Argentina is Ashkenazi, from Central and Eastern Europe, while 30% is Sephardic, from Spain, Portugal, Morocco, the Balkans, Syria, Turkey and North Africa.
Eighty percent of Argentine Jews reside in the City of Buenos Aires, with an additional 11,000 Jews living in Rosario and Cordoba. There are also sizable Jewish communities in the cities of Santa Fe, Corrientes, La Plata, Bahía Blanca, Mendoza and Mar del Plata.
The primary Jewish political institution is the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA), which lobbies for the interests of the community and its constituent organizations. Its work is complimented by the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), which focuses on religious and cultural activities. AMIA is also responsible for social services, including education, healthcare, employment, burial services and more. The headquarters of the Latin American Jewish Congress are located in Buenos Aires.
Argentina boasts a diverse and active Jewish religious life, with synagogues belonging to all major denominations and Kosher food is readily available.
Buenos Aires is home to an independent branch of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which was first founded in Vilnius (Vilna) in the 1920s. In Buenos Aires, there is also a Jewish museum, three libraries, and four Jewish book-stores. Cordoba has an impressive community center. The Maccabi Sport Federation is also very active in Argentina.
There are almost 100 Jewish educational institutions in Argentina, from kindergarten to high schools, affiliated with a variety of denominations.
Numerous Jewish youth groups, both secular and religiously observant, are active across the country.
Argentina boasts a number of Jewish periodicals and media outlets, including the Jewish News Agency, Vis a Vis and Itón Gadol.
AMIA produces its own television show entitled "AMIA el legado,” which is broadcast once a week on public television. Radio Jai operates as a Jewish radio station, broadcasting from Buenos Aires.
The Latin American Jewish Congress, which is based in Argentina, publishes its own magazine, Coloquio, which features contributions by notable intellectuals, writers, philosophers and academics as well as political, religious and social leaders.
Visitors to Argentina may be interested in visiting the Jewish Museum of Buenos Aires, the Synagogue of the Israelite Congregation of the Argentine Republic - known as Templo Libertad, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), the Anne Frank Museum, the Great Temple of Paso, the Argentine Hebraic Society and the Holocaust Museum. Visitors may also wish to see the Plaza de la Memoria, where the Israeli Embassy used to stand.
Argentina was one of the first countries to recognize Israel after its independence and the two nations established diplomatic relations soon after. In 2010, under the leadership of President Cristina Kirchner, Argentina announced its intention to join Brazil in recognizing an independent Palestinian state, provoking strong criticism from Israel.
However, under President Mauricio Macri, who took office in 2015, relations have improved significantly and in 2017 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli premier to visit Argentina. Israel maintains an embassy in Buenos Aires and honorary consulates in Cordoba and Mendoza.
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