The High Holidays are upon us. In a few days, we will gather to hear the shofar blow. We will contemplate the year we are leaving behind (Baruch Hashem!) and the year that is unfolding. May it be a sweet and healthy new year for all!
Today, I have been busy baking challah— punching out air bubbles from the soft dough, smoothing the edges, and rolling out long ropes that will form the traditional crown for Rosh Hashanah. Baking my own challah is a new talent I’ve incorporated into my repertoire (thank you @JamieGeller). I’m more known for my sweet brisket and potato knishes. I also am proud of my honey lekach and apple strudel. So many traditions! My parents were not “religious,” but they passed down enough yiddishkeyt to impress upon me the importance of staying connected to our roots.
My heritage—like so many of us—is a mishmash of cultures. My grandparents were children when they immigrated from Imperial Russia to Argentina. And like so many other rusos, their food, their music, and their prayers were influenced by the local community. But these Argentine Jews were resilient! Their impact on society can’t be denied. Their influence is still felt today.
So, what is yiddishkeyt? Look up the word on the Internet. The first definition is simply: “Jewishness.” To me, the word is about the phenomenon of taking something ordinary or commonplace and incorporating a bit Jewish quality or custom into the mix. OK, so now you ask: what does porteño mean? This refers to a person from the port city of Buenos Aires, but it also can be a local tradition or cultural way of doing things. I could also write about doing a gauchada or making something criollo, but that’s another post. The point is that immigrants from various nations brought their ingenuity to their new country. For example, Italian food has long dominated Argentine cuisine. Another Italian creation is fileteado, an art form that has become synonymous with Buenos Aires (see example below). Suffice it to say that Argentines crave their Argentinismos, just like Jews crave yiddishkeit. The rusos took their Ashkenazi faith, culture, literature, theater, and film, gave them a local flair, and yiddishkeyt porteño was born!
Immigrants fleeing pogroms and persecution arrived to their new country and were soon expected to assimilate to their adoptive land. They learned to drink mate and to sing the songs of the pampas.
They were taught Argentine history and the national anthem. And when they slowly began to acclimate, these Jewish gauchos built schools, hospitals and charitable organizations. They printed newspapers, wrote novels, and staged theatrical performances.
They learned to sow wheat and corn and sunflowers too —it reminded them of their homeland. And for their efforts, they reaped doctors, lawyers, teachers and philosophers. They watched their children grow strong amongst the fertile land and new-found freedom, and waved them off as they left the inner provinces for Buenos Aires.
As I separate a piece of challah and say the appropriate prayers, it fills me with a sense of connection and a sense of peace. I think of those that came before me and know that I stand on the shoulders of some remarkable people. My ancestors brought knishes and kugel and sweet wine to make kiddush on the pampas. They wished their neighbors a gut shabbos and buen provecho. I wish you the same as well. Until next time…
I believe I was in the third grade when I read Martha Washington’s biography. By then, I was an avid reader and historical was my favorite subject. I remember being fascinated by our nation’s First Lady’s history; although technically, this title was not coined until after her death. I learned of her first marriage and how she soon became a young widow with four children.
Now a woman with property and means of support, Martha Dandridge Custis didn’t need to marry for financial reasons; nevertheless, she did remarry. And even though I was only eight years old, the romantic in me was captivated by Martha’s “love match” with the up-and-coming, Colonel George Washington.
Although Martha was attractive and well-liked amongst society, her life was not exactly charmed. Two children, Daniel and Frances, were lost to her before they reached the age of five—most likely from malaria. It did not end there. Her daughter, affectionally called Patsy, suffered from debilitating seizures and died at the age of 17. Martha’s remaining son, John, died a few weeks before his twenty-seventh birthday from a “virulent illness.” But, as the story goes, Mrs. Washington continued on, serving her husband and her country through the Revolutionary War and beyond.
I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our disposition and not on our circumstances.”
As a young wife, Martha Dandridge Custis, moved amongst the upper echelons of Virginia’s society. She had been educated like most young ladies of her sphere, but when she became Mrs. Washington, Martha was in a position to do much good.
Determined and practical, she hosted weekly receptions where people of various backgrounds had the opportunity to exchange ideas and philosophies with the president. It was her intention that these so-called levees be dignified, yet informal so that the general society could take part in building the new nation.
All these memories flooded my mind while I was researching Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson and her famous tertulias or salons. Much like America’s First Lady, Mariquita defined and redefined the roles of what it meant to be a wife, mother, and patriot.
Mariquita was born into an elite family of the Viceroyalty with important ties linking back to Spain. She was of petite stature, but she held her own against her parents and the strict societal rules of the day. Strong-willed and independent by the age of fifteen, she defied her parents and refused to marry the man of their choosing.
It is precious to me to defend my rights.”
After experiencing what one could easily label a Shakespearean rebellion, Mariquita was able to marry as her heart dictated. She and her new husband became linked with public life and supported the cause for freedom. They hosted events to promote patriotism and to encourage free thinking.
The Thompsons had five children throughout their marriage. They moved in the highest circles and were beloved amongst their society. It was, therefore, a great tragedy when Martin Thompson died while returning from a diplomatic trip to the United States of America in 1817.
Similar to Martha, Mariquita was a woman of means and didn’t necessarily need a husband for financial support. Nevertheless, in 1820, she remarried. Isn’t it interesting to note that her second husband was a gentleman by the name of Washington. Washington de Mendeville, to be exact.
It appears the Mendeville marriage was not a great success; however, Mariquita did not let that deter her aspirations. She continued her political work and was known for her association with The Patrician Ladies (Damas Patricias).
She advocated for women’s rights. She established schools for women and girls and founded the Sociedad de Beneficencia, to aid the poor and needy. It appears that great minds do think alike— look back at Martha Washington’s quote that speaks to one’s disposition for happiness.
I don’t deny that I enjoy a traditional historical romance. But there has to be more than “boy meets girl.” Whether the storyline is set in a posh drawing room in England or the vast American frontier, I am attracted to the protagonist’s courage, as well as her growth. I cheer for her unwavering steadfastness shown in the face of turmoil and tragedy. Miss Abigail Isaacs in Celestial Persuasion has much in common with the women mentioned in this post. Although she is a fictional character, I hope readers will admire her strength, determination, and heart. I suppose that is the magic of novels. Through the written word, we can identify with impossible scenarios and a variety of character attributes. Their heart aches and struggles resonate with us. Their triumphs spur us on. We may even aspire to be such women~ Women of Valor.
Excerpt from Chapter Four:
The next morning, Abigail lingered in bed with a cup of hot chocolate, dutifully presented by a young maid. She had spent a sleepless night, staring into the black sky and seeking answers from above. She had prayed for guidance and for strength; but such was her grief, not even espying her favored constellation provided Abigail any comfort. Unaccustomed to vacillation, she was impatient with herself; and in truth, not a little overcome by her circumstances. She longed for days of yore when her little family celebrated the Sabbath as one. Though she was quite young, Abigail could yet recall the Friday evening meals, the rituals, and the blessings. Her father beaming with pride would preside over the table and praise his Eishet Chayil, with the ancient words of King Solomon: A Woman of Valor, who can find? Her worth is far beyond rubies. She and Jonathan would not be forgotten. They too would receive a parental blessing before partaking of the evening meal. Thus cossetted and cared for, their physical bodies were nurtured, as well as their spiritual selves. For as their mother would say, on the Sabbath, their souls were lifted and the uncertainties of life were set aside. Now wiping away her tears and throwing off the bed linens, Abigail arose to brave the day.
It was much later, whilst she and Mrs. Frankel were at luncheon, Pearson solemnly approached his lordship’s guests holding a silver salver, which he presented with utmost care. Abigail reached for the note and nodded her gratitude. Making quick work of the missive, she sighed heavily and informed her companion that his lordship would be delayed.
“It seems we are to have a quiet day, Frankie.”
“Perhaps all is how it ought to be, my dear. We will amuse ourselves, or not—we two are quite comfortable with one another—we are not compelled to do otherwise.”
They removed themselves into the drawing room, where a fire was set ablaze for their comfort. Mrs. Frankel kept her thoughts to herself and knitted away at heaven only knew what. Abigail did not question her companion’s efforts and turned to find her own escape in the pages of a book. When the sun finally began its descent, Abigail set down the novel and moved to the window to watch the changes in the sky. She did not hear the knock at the door, or Pearson’s somber salutation; therefore, when a man’s voice bade them a good afternoon, Abigail was quite startled.
“Are you so anxious for the Sabbath to end?”
Sufficiently recovered, Abigail was able to reply. “On the contrary, Mr. Gabay. One wishes to delay the inevitable. I have not yet seen three stars together.”
“We shall both have to remain alert then, and let Mrs. Frankel know when she may begin the prayers for Havdalah.”
“Excellent notion, young man,” Mrs. Frankel declared, and went off to find Mrs. Garrett to gather some spices, wine, and candlesticks for the evening ceremony.
“Forgive me, Miss Isaacs.” Remembering his manners, he performed a gallant bow. “I appear to have arrived early. Has his lordship not returned?”
“We had a missive from Lord Fife. He has been detained and we are awaiting his return just now. You are most welcome to join us, sir.”
“I find you a bit pale. I do hope you are in good health,” said the gentleman.
“Thank you, yes. We have not had an opportunity to be out of doors, and I fear that my mind has been much occupied.”
“I can well imagine.”
“I am not certain that you can, Mr. Gabay.” Abigail grimaced at her severe response but was helpless to muster great civility. “My grief has been sullied with uncertainty; my life has been uprooted and I find that I cannot mourn my brother when my heart is so burdened.”
The gentleman looked upon the young lady and astonished her with a grin. “I have often contemplated the ceremony of Havdalah, have you not?”
She was yet unaccustomed to the gentleman’s wit; and because of this, Abigail made every attempt to keep herself in check. Much as she wanted to condemn his ill-timed levity, her raised brow afforded him the impetus to continue with his discourse.
“The ritual—the symbolism—it challenges our senses,” said he, “as if to awaken us from a pleasant dream. Do you not find it so?”
“Indeed.” Begrudgingly, she accepted the sudden change of topic. “We are told to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. I would agree with your assessment, for we are in a dream world from sundown on Friday night until three stars appear the following evening. We are then awakened, as you say, with the ceremony of Havdalah—commanded to mark the separation from that holiness to the mundane.”
“My dear Miss Isaacs, mundane is not the word I would choose. Pray forgive my impertinence; but every week we are instructed to leave behind Perfection—or our concept of what that might be—in order to hurl ourselves, like a star shooting across the sky, into the chaos that is His creation. Into life.”
Raphael Gabay crossed the room and peered through the glass pane at the evening’s sky. Not finding what was required, he continued with his thought. “I ought not risk being thrown out by Pearson—perhaps I should behave in a more gentlemanlike manner—but your countenance assures me that you are, indeed, troubled. And it pains me to see you so.”
Abigail looked at him through her lashes and pondered his sincerity. “Your concern speaks well for your manners, sir, but I doubt very much our short acquaintance allows for such a declaration.”
“On the contrary. I believe my discernment is beyond reproach. Your idyllic life in Devonshire, surrounded by those you loved and the things you know, was your Perfection. But your brother is asking you, seemingly from beyond the celestial veil, to leave that place—not compromise or settle, but to see what else awaits you in the new world.”
“And what of your plans, sir? Does your soldier’s philosophy provide you sufficient cause to quit your home and family?”
“Ah—that was well done, Miss Isaacs. Implementing a defensive tactic in order to fell an opponent is a sound strategy on the battlefield. However, I am only too happy to respond to your enquiry which, of course, lessens the strength of your attack.” Mr. Gabay smiled and made himself comfortable on the divan before continuing. “I am a second son, madam, and have been given a certain freedom to live my life with some abandon. No doubt, I have caused my father some distress having no set course for the future; but try as I might, Miss Isaacs, I have never found my true calling. Therefore, the matter is very simple in my case. I am for Buenos Aires because I believe in this cause and respect the men at the lead. For now, that is enough for me. But I put it to you, Miss Isaacs: what is your destiny?”
Having heard his soliloquy, Abigail could no longer hold on to her vexation. She experienced an epiphany recalling her words to Mrs. Frankel the night in the inn. What was her destiny? If the ancient dictates of Gersonides, Ibn Ezra, and Zacuto were to be believed, it was apparent. Her celestial traits must not go unheeded.
I hope you enjoyed today’s post. There are so many Women of Valor in history. Can you name one or two you admire? Drop me a line and let me know!
It was May 30, 1812, when fourteen women of Buenos Aires’ elite society gathered for a fund raising event. A collection was taken in support of the ragtag criollo army fighting against the Spanish crown. Each women —listed below—financed one pistol each. Obviously, it was not nearly enough to battle the Spaniards; but they inspired other women to do their part by crafting uniforms and eventually, as the story goes, stitching together the first Argentine flag.
My new novel, Celestial Persuasion, unfolds in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata at the cusp of Argentina’s independence. After a series of astonishing events, the protagonist, Abigail Isaacs, finds herself in Buenos Aires. Here she writes to Captain Wentworth…
I received a missive this morning, presented by a liveried servant. It was an invitation from a Mr. and Mrs. Martin Thompson for Tuesday next. You can well imagine my astonishment, Captain Wentworth, as we are so newly arrived that I have not yet regained the use of my land legs. I have not a clue who these good people might be, or how they came to know of my arrival in the city. It was Mrs. Tavares who supplied the necessary information and assured me that I might respond to the invitation without compunction. It was all due to Lord Fife and his connections with society. I imagined the Thompsons were fellow compatriots, perhaps an elderly couple from Sussex or Bath. Imagine my astonishment when Mrs. Tavares explained the truth of the matter. Mrs. Thompson, in fact, is María Josepha Petrona de Todos los Santos Sánchez de Velasco y Trillo. The articulation of the lady’s name alone was quite an undertaking! It practically encompassed my daily Spanish lesson in its entirety. Mrs. Tavares was only too happy to impart her knowledge. To begin with, much to my relief, the lady is simply known as Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson. She is the daughter of a distinguished family of Río de la Plata, with an impressive lineage tracing back to Spain and Portugal. She married Martin Jacobo Thompson and the pair have become the toast of the town.
Mrs. Tavares’s countenance upon seeing the invitation was quite telling. I have never witnessed such excitement. It would seem that an invitation to Mrs. Thompson’s salon is paramount to taking tea with one of the patronesses of Almacks! One must understand, these social gatherings include some of the most renowned citizens of the Viceroyalty. I am to expect an introduction to compatriots and locals, aristocrats and artisans. If I am to trust in my housekeeper’s accounting, Mrs. Thompson is an extraordinary example of female ingenuity. She is known as a great advocate for the new republic. Mrs. Tavares assures me that a more fervent patriot cannot be found among those who support the cause. Not only did the lady donate three ounces of gold to the coffers, she lends her domestic skills for the sewing of uniforms.
In short, Captain Wentworth, I am undone at the thought of attending Mrs. Thompson’s salon. I fear I lack the talent of conversing easily with strangers; although you may believe that an odd statement after I have, after all, rambled on for two pages complete. Your close ties with Jonathan, and your own insistence, have made you less a stranger and more a relative.
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt! You can find Celestial Persuasion on Amazon in both digital and paperback formats. Happy reading!
As you have read in my previous posts, I began piecing together a story that involved Captain Wentworth and his good friend—and ship’s physician—Jonathan Isaacs. Naturally, this sliver of an idea resulted in hours and hours of research. I knew nothing about the Navy, nothing about officers, and nothing about the Jewish factor that I wanted to thread into this particular tapestry of a story. Now, before I write another word: Tell me you don’t see the similarities between the naval officers of Argentina’s Regency era and those of Austen fame.
Need I say more?
Apparently, I do! My story unfolds in Exeter, where the Isaac family lived in close proximity to Barton Cottage. That, of course, is a fictional location; nonetheless, one well known to fans of Sense and Sensibility. In any event, the head of the Isaacs family was a country doctor, but I wanted Jonathan to be a physician in service to the Crown. This is where the questions began. Were there Jews in Exeter during the Regency era? Were they allowed to serve in the Navy? Did they have any connection to that world at all? It was then that I discovered a veritable treasure trove!
Jewish Communities and Records- The Jews of South-West England (Jewishgen.org) provides this information and more! It soon became clear to me that there was Jewish life in Exeter, Plymouth, Falmouth and Penzance, as well as several other towns throughout Devon in the years dating from 1750 to 1900. There is evidence from earlier still, but the records I focused on were those of the Regency and Victorian eras (where the details were irrefutable). And in stark contrast to what Dickens and Heyer portray in their works, the Jewish community of South-West England was comprised of a small, yet respectable, upper middle class.
7 families kept one servant indicating that they may have been in the £150 – £300 per annum income bracket; two families each with two servants may have earned about £500 per annum; and the one family with three servants was possibly in the £750 per annum income group.
By 1796, five Jews had shops in the fashionable shopping area of Exeter sufficiently well established as to warrant inclusion in the Exeter Pocket Journal, a local newspaper. There were two silversmiths, an engraver who sold a variety of goods, a pawnbroker, and a stationer. And in addition to these and other trades, there were naval agents.
To say that conditions were harsh in the Royal Navy throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries would be an understatement, but the ever-present hope of prize money made the cruel life somewhat bearable. Think of how Captain Wentworth’s life changed course when he was awarded his prize money! Officers had bankers to look after their interests. The seamen, however, turned to local tradesmen of naval towns for assistance. They were the link to the naval authorities in London. This system, at first, was unofficial and based on mutual trust. I present Abraham Joseph, an Exeter tradesmen, as a fine example. He earned such trust, as his obituary in the Flying Post (1794) indicates:
As an agent for seamen, his practice was well worthy of the imitation of every person in that business, as several orphans and indigent widows can testify.
At some point in 1809, legislation was enacted which required all seamen to register with a licensed navy agent. In order to obtain a license, the tradesman had to post a bond with two sureties, under penalty of £200. Sometimes, a would-be navy agent was a man of high social standing; nevertheless, everyone had to swear that they were worth more than £5,000 in order to qualify. The first list of 174 licensed navy agents included 66 Jews. It was said that Jewish tradesmen were held in high esteem and the proof was in their rapid growth in that particular community. Between 1807 and 1814, navy agents as a whole increased sevenfold throughout England. The number of Jewish agents increased thirtyfold!
The British fleet was manned by nearly 35,000 seamen by this time. Jewish shopkeepers throughout the port towns specialized in doing trade with the ships. They were allowed to go on board with goods that appealed to the “simple seamen,” such as “old watches and seals, watch chains, rings, fancy shoes, scarlet and blue silk handkerchiefs, clay pipes, and fresh food of every description.” Honest traders with good references were most welcome. In 1813, Joseph Joseph presented the following royal command which granted him access to the crewmen at port:
I do hereby certify that Joseph Joseph of Plymouth has at different times supplied the Crews of His Majesty’s Ships when under my Command with Clothing to my entire satisfaction, and I do hereby recommend him to the Admirals, Captains, and Officers of His Majesty’s Navy, to be permitted to transact any Business that may be done on board the respective Ships under their Command.
St. James’s Palace ~ December 2, 1812
How do I top a letter of recommendation from St James’s Palace? With this:
Members of both congregations at Exeter and Plymouth would, on occasion, travel up to Dartmoor prison to practice acts of chesed, or lovingkindness. By the end of 1814, there were 2,340 American prisoners of war being held at Dartmoor, and a number of them were Jewish soldiers and sailors. Commodore Uriah P. Levy, was among them. Notably, this officer created the law which abolished the act of flogging in the United States Navy. Captain Levi Charles Harby was another Jewish sailor being held captive. During his imprisonment, a Jewish baker from Plymouth would make the daily trip to sell his baked goods. One day, he offered a loaf of bread to Captain Harby. The officer refused it. The baker, however, insisted. Inside the loaf, he had hidden a newspaper clipping that told of an important battle at New Orleans. This encouraged the captain to escape, apparently with the help of the baker! The story went on to report that Captain Harby was able to find his way back to his men. He continued to serve his country with great success and it was in no small part, thanks to the baker mench from South-West England.
Seeing that we— here in the U.S. —are celebrating our freedom today, I’d say that little tidbit is quite fitting! Happy Independence Day!
Argentina—the word conjures up images of fiery gauchos and romantic tangueros…or is it romantic gauchos and fiery tangueros? If your travel agent suggested this country as your next vacation destination, what would come to mind? Based on my experiences, most people respond with the Broadway song, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina. They think of crazed soccer players, or worse yet, they imagine a country overrun by escaped Nazis. I have another image; but mine is painted by a refined hand, a landscape of multiple layers of color, shadows, and dimension. You see, although Argentina is my native country; it is not my ancestral home. I’m the granddaughter of Russian immigrants—Jews fleeing the pogroms and chaos prior to the Revolution.
My Argentine travel blog would not showcase the exquisite architecture inspired by the French. Museums, theaters, cultural and government centers abound. There’s no particular need for me to point them out. I wouldn’t speak of the British influence on such things as finger sandwiches, polo or afternoon tea. Neither would I speak of how the Brits constructed the nation’s first railroad system. I wouldn’t ramble on about the grass-fed cattle or the mouthwatering cuisine heavily influenced by the Italians. I wouldn’t point out that you could visit prairies, jungles, deserts, glaciers or the majestic Iguazú Falls—larger and wider than Niagara and far more breathtaking. I understand…you want to know about all these things. You want to know about gauchos and hear about the Paris of South America, with its sensual nights of dancing tango and drinking Malbec; but in my world; Argentina is about drinking maté and eating potato knishes in my bobe’s house. Yes, I said my bobe’s house (not bubbe).
Jews in Argentina? They went there during WWII, right? No! Although there has been a Jewish community in South America since the time of Cristobal Colon (that’s Christopher Columbus), significant number of Jews began arriving towards the end of the 19th century. You are familiar with the exodus from Eastern Europe into the United States, but did you know that thousands upon thousands found their “New Jerusalem” in Argentina? Facilitated by Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the Jewish Colonization Association was created on September 11, 1891 with the intention of evacuating persecuted Jews from Imperial Russia. The J.C.A. worked in collaboration with the Argentine government by placing the immigrants in agricultural colonies throughout the rich, untapped land of the newly founded nation.
In Entre Ríos, there were over seventeen colonies, including Basavilbaso (Lucienville), Clara, Pedernal, and Villa Domínguez. In the province of Buenos Aires, there was Colonia Lapin, Carlos Casares and Rivera to name a few. Santa Fe was home of the most famous colony Moises Ville. Bernasconi (Narcisse Levin) was located in the province of La Pampa; and in the northern tip of the country, was Colonia Dora in Santiago del Estero.
Sembramos trigo y cosechamos doctores
We sow wheat and we reap doctors—that was the famous saying among the pioneers who toiled on the pampas, but birthed a new and hopeful generation of engineers, scientists, teachers and entrepreneurs.
La colectividad—the Jewish community in Argentina—is second only to the United States and it thanks to these unsung heroes, these Jewish gauchos. The colonists organized agricultural co-operatives. They built libraries, hospital, and charitable organizations. They built schools for their children to study both secular and religious programs. They built athletic organizations and impressive country clubs where families met for networking and socializing, challenging the most popular clubs of the American Borscht Belt. Their aspirations and achievements need to be heralded. Oh, and by the way, you would be remiss to think that these immigrants were all illiterate, wretched and downtrodden. Among their numbers were people of means and consequence who contributed not only their knowledge and funds, but a hearty spirit of perseverance and hope!
Not wanting to be accused of having a revisionist view of history, I can’t neglect to mention the hardships, the anti-Semitism and outright evil that Argentine Jews faced. And sometimes, it was at the hands of their own people.
A Polish organized crime group, the Zwi Migdal, established a holding in Buenos Aires as early as 1860. Their sole purpose was the trafficking of Central European Jewish women into forced prostitution. The organization was legally registered as the Warsaw Jewish Mutual Aid Society and they lured the women from their homes and families by promising a fresh start in a new country, away from economic strife and persecution. Desperate and hopeless, parents would send their daughters away thinking that they would be settled in proper Jewish homes as servants or taught some useful skill in a country that was at the cusp of becoming a leading nation. Often times, the harsh realities of their new lives began as soon as they boarded the ship.
In January 1919, for the duration of an entire “tragic week” (Semana Trágica), the Jewish community in Buenos Aires experienced a pogrom—physical violence and destruction of property on par with what many had experienced in the old country. At the time, the United States embassy reported that 1,500 people were killed, “mostly Russians and generally Jews.”
During the “Dirty War” era of 1976-1983, disproportionate numbers of Jewish students and professionals were victimized, kidnapped, tortured, or were simply made to “disappear” as a hard-right military regime attempted to control left-wing extremists fighting to create a Marxist stronghold.
In the 1990’s, both the Israeli embassy and the A.M.I.A. (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) buildings were bombed—allegedly by Hezbollah.
When I would ask my grandparents about the anti-Semitism they would say, “Yes, it exists, but we don’t allow it to define us.” Argentine Jews faced stifling and horrific events—comparable to what was experienced in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe—nonetheless in many, important ways, their adopted country did indeed prove to be their “New Jerusalem.” There was heartache and hardship, of course, but my grandparents impressed upon me that there was no time to cry. They were too busy getting on with the business of living!
Admit it…you know the song. You’ve seen the play. Eva Peron is standing on the balcony of the Casa Rosada, arms stretched out—aching to embrace her enamored, spell-bound followers. But Argentina is more than the infamous—villainous—Perons. Argentina is more than futbol and Messi. Argentina is more than the guerilla leader, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. To me, Argentina is where my ancestors found their refuge. It is where knishes and empanadas shared a table. It is where the sweet sounds of the klezmer’s clarinet combined with the gaucho’s guitar; and later, the tanguero’s bandoneón. That is my Argentina and I want to share it with you.
Too often, we think of Russian Jews and imagine Tevye and his cohorts in Anetevka. There is nothing wrong with that—Sholem Aleichem was a beloved and brilliant teller of tales. I simply want to add to that narrative. Take the story of the Jewish gaucho and that romantic tanguero into your heart. Set them alongside the stories of Tevye and yourown ancestors, but remember: Do not cry!
An excerpt from Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey
Having traveled several miles deep in her own thoughts, Leah suddenly realized that the chatter and excitement, stemming from both the children and the adults, had decreased significantly. Turning her head ever so slightly to the right and then to the left, Leah witnessed the cause for the abrupt change in her family’s emotions. Lonely homesteads spotted the terrain. Farmland and open range was all one could see.
As if he could read their minds, Yosef called out from the head wagon. Cupping his hands around his lips, so that his voice would travel down the line he exclaimed, “Remember—we are free to come and go as we please. This is not the Pale of Settlement and there are no inspectors, revizors, or Okhrana!”
At that precise moment, Leah found Yosef’s astute observation very small comfort, indeed. Slow and steady, the oxen ambled on for what seemed an eternity before señor Lipinsky held up his hand, signaling the drivers to come to a stop. They had arrived.
The Abramovitz men jumped off the wagons and handed down the women and children. Dismayed, they stood solemnly in place and quietly took in their surroundings. A dilapidated wooden fence, in dire need of sanding and a new coat of paint, marked the property. As señor Lipinsky had promised, the lot and the dwelling appeared somewhat larger than those seen on the previous homesteads. León Goldfarb had mentioned that they would most likely have a cabin or a cottage, depending on their luck, along with a small barn and granary. His assumption had been correct.
“I cannot believe that we trekked across Mother Russia through Europe and across the Atlantic Ocean to end up here—to live like krepostnyye!” Naftali bellowed.
“We are not serfs, Brother. We will work the land for our own benefit—not for some nobleman,” replied Yosef. “And we will live in peace.”
“We might as well have gone to Siberia,” was Yaacov’s grim reply. “We are in the middle of nowhere.”
“‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread to our fill!’” Ysroel recited. “‘For you have brought us out into this desert, to starve this entire congregation to death’—does that sound familiar? We have not yet been here one full day!” exclaimed the pious brother. “Where is your faith?”
Malka nodded her agreement. “It is quite fitting that you quote Exodus, my son, for are we not the epitome of Israelites wandering in the desert? But the Lord will provide—of that I am sure!”
Señor Lipinsky cleared his throat and the men turned towards the agent. Aware that the Abramovitz family had begun their odyssey with a different plan in mind, he did not begrudge them their displeasure. He could only imagine the life they had led in Odessa in the upper stratums of Jewish society. It was quite a different scenario than the vast majority of colonists, but not completely unheard of. The agronomic engineer, Miguel Sajaroff and his brother-in-law, Doctor Noé Yarcho, were both learned men of means—certainly known and admired among the colonists. They, too, had come from rather illustrious origins.
Señor Lipinsky gently reminded the family that they were on the outskirts of town but, there wasindeed a thriving town–a Jewish town. The children would be required to attend public school in the morning; but the town was proud to boast of their own cheder, where Yiddish and religious studies were taught in the afternoons. The community had shops, a synagogue, a cemetery and a social hall. They would soon meet their neighbors and establish friendships with the criollos and the yiden alike.
“We—the Argentines and the Jews—live together in peace,” he said. “God has made it possible for us to make a good life here.”
“Of course, señor Lipinsky and we will do the same—may it be Hashem’s will,” replied Malka, as she turned and took in the full view of their new land. “Are these fruit trees? The orchard seems to have been abandoned, but with some work, we will have a bountiful harvest next year. This reminds me of when I was a child. It will be good for the kinder to get their hands into the dirt.”
“You most likely will find peach and plum trees. At home, we also have mango,” the land agent boasted.
“What is a mango?” Duvid asked. “May I try one?”
Señor Lipinsky laughed. “Yes, of course boychik! When you taste it, you will think it is a slice of heaven. Sweet and tangy, it is like biting into a peach and an orange at the same time.”
“Come now, children,” Malka said, as she marched to the door. “Let us enter our new home with uplifted spirits and gratitude in our hearts.”
With their mother and señor Lipinsky leading the way, the Abramovitz clan followed suit. Leah trailed behind. She willed herself not to turn around, but curiosity overruled. The gauchos were still there—hewas still there.
From atop his steed, El Moro removed his hat once more, and placed it over his heart. Knowing she owed him apology, she sunk into a deep curtsey, as if he were the Tsar himself. He laughed, not in a disparaging fashion, but with full appreciation of her good sportsmanship. He let out a triumphant holler, as the men turned their horses and raced away. Feeling herself blush, Leah laughed as well and quickly caught up with the family now entering their new lodgings.
Her mother, having removed her hat and gloves, was inspecting the building, which could not be compared to anything but the gardener’s cabin back home. Leah could see her mamá’s mind at work. She could only imagine the list of duties that soon would be imparted to each and every one. When she heard her mother speaking of chemical compounds, Leah began to understand the true magnitude of the undertaking.
“I will need a fair amount of the product, if we are to paint these walls and the fruit trees,” Malka informed the J.C.A. agent.
“Yes, of course,” Lipinsky replied, agreeing with the fine lady’s assessment. Many of the colonists applied whitewash to the trees in order to prevent sun scorching.
“My father was known to paint the entire tree trunk, not just the bottom portion, as he insisted that it kept the tree from blooming prematurely.”
“We are going to paint the trees?” Duvid asked.
“Yes, as well as the house,” said Malka. “If we can purchase a bit of blue dye—perhaps a local laundress might have a decent supply—we can color the calcimine and end up with a lovely shade of pale blue.”
“Lovely. It will be our very own Winter Palace,” added Leah in jest. Having only known the luxury of living on a grand estate, she hadn’t a clue of the benefits of whitewashing; and although she had enjoyed her lessons with watercolors, the idea of washing the grimy stone walls sounded exhausting. Noting the sarcasm in her own voice, Leah winced and waited for the certain rebuke. When none came, she decided it was in her best interest to pay attention to her mamá.
“We will cover the walls with this compound several times a year, my dears, for the coating has hygienic properties. Once we have added successive applications, layers of scale will build up on the roughhewn walls, and the flakes will fall off. Then it is simply a matter of sweeping away any remaining debris,” she said, running her finger along the wainscoting. You shall see…with fresh, clean paint, colorful curtains, and cheerful wildflowers on the table, we will feel quite at home.”
“It will be like visiting the country house!” shouted Duvid with delight.
“It will be better than visiting our dacha—we will be home.” replied Yosef.