LIFESTYLE

The Last Jewish Gauchos in Argentina
A tight-knit, hundred-year-old Jewish community in Argentina is disappearing. 

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The well-known Argentine writer Alberto Gerchunoff grew up in these Jewish colonies in Argentina, made up of Eastern Europeans and Russian Jews who left their homeland to escape persecution. As he became a famous writer, at the beginning of 20th Century, he wrote Los Gauchos Judíos, a successful novel that describes Jewish Colony life as he remembered it as a child.

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Two descendants of colonists, now in their 70s, are the main guards of their cultural and religious heritage. They collect funds to pay for the maintenance of synagogues, cemeteries and historical buildings.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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The Synagogue of the Arbetn (in Yiddish: workers or craftsmen), which was built by settlers from Old Europe. It has a very simple architecture. In the center of the large room you may find the Bimah (pulpit), where the officiant would stand in the middle of the crowd.

 

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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As a tradition, Jewish people don't leave flowers in tombs, but stones. This common use has a romantic reason: flowers wither but stones, like love, lasts forever. However, this plastic flower broke the tradition.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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The first tomb, with its inscriptions sculpted with a stone.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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This huge bust of Sargento Jacobo Roskin, one of the few Jews accepted into the Argentine Army, attracts the attention of every visitor. He died in 1945, around the time Juan Perón became president.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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Hugo Arcuzzi is the cemetery guard. He takes care of the place and of the tombs and knows the story of every person buried there. The cemetery is supported by the Jewish community of Basavilbaso.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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On the left are the graves of the first settlers. The men, women and children are not buried in the same area.What calls the visitor's attention: The Holocaust Monument, the Monolith for the 75th anniversary of Cooperativa Lucienville and the plaque in memory of the 25th Anniversary of Dr. Bernardo Uchitel's death.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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An original building from when the Jewish Colony settled there in the late 1800s. All building materials are received from the Jewish Colonization Association, the philanthropic foundation that Baron Hirsch created. The rancho was made of adobe (a mixture of mud, water and straw.)

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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The graves face east, toward Jerusalem. In the past, men were placed on the right hand side and women on the left. Kids and suicide victims (Jewish law does not recognize the “right to die”) were sometimes buried separately. Tombs were made with sand, lime and water. In some, the inscriptions were etched by stone.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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Entre Ríos Province in Argentina welcomes tourists to visit the historical sites where Jewish Colonies settled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Thousands of Jewish immigrants left behind persecution and fear to find hope in a land promising freedom and work.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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The Carmel cemetery was built on a piece of land donated by Felipe Jaimovich, a settler. The first graves go back to 1898, when the cemetery was created.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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This image shows men and kids at work, with rudimentary tools. At the age of 10, kids helped their parents at work while they attended school. Most of them left the region when they grew up and moved to larger cities.

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Until pesticides were invented and used, locust plagues were very common in this region. These insects, one of the world's most destructive pests, destroyed their harvest and their daily bread.

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Two descendants of colonists, now in their 70s, are the main guards of their cultural and religious heritage. They collect funds to pay for the maintenance of synagogues, cemetery and historical buildings.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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The main synagogue of all the colonies, at Basavilbaso, retains its original appearance. It is a two-floor building and there are balconies and a large hall upstairs. These old wooden benches were used by women during religious ceremonies, while men stays downstairs, near the rabbi.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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On the main street of Basavilbaso stands this magnificent building, a reminder of the rich Jewish history in the area. 

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Men, women and children worked the land together. It took years of failures, illnesses and poverty until the family made the land profitable. 

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Built in the late 19th century (1898), the famous Jewish gaucho, León Borodovsky, was born in this home on April 7, 1923. He was the grandson of one of the founders of the synagogue and its caretaker until he died in 1996.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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This shed synagogue was founded in 1895, a year after the settlement of Colonia Lucienville. With its primitive architecture, it draws people's attention because of its unique construction and the preservation of the elements inside.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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The walls are made of brick masonry, fixed on mud and rendered with lime. It has a corrugated zinc roof. There are two rooms: one of them was used for religious ceremonies and the other, the smallest one, for social gatherings and school activities.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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The railroad arrived at Estación Gobernador Basavilbaso for the first time on June 30, 1887. Even though the passenger service was suspended in 1992, this year the Entre Ríos Province government started a new provincial service line. Basavilbaso has no main square, though the station was also the center of social life in the area.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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Starting in 1908, many former settlers came to Domínguez. The religious needs were met by a synagogue built by the Kneset Israel Association, which also housed a Hebrew School. The original temple was built in 1923 and, when it was at its height, there were over 120 people attending the Kabalat Shabat every Friday night.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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Now called Ing. Sajaroff, the first shil (synagogue) was built in the early 20th century. There was only one room divided by a curtain to separate men from women. Once a week, it was used as Hebrew school, which was attended by local children.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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Seven candles, the Jewish ancestral symbol, are always lit. The synagogue, which was renovated in 1999, has cream-colored brick walls on a mud base with an astonishing bright red ridge roof. There are eight large windows that provide natural daylight.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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The trains station remains as originally constructed. Furniture, architecture and the decoration were restored in the last decade, preserving their style and original appearance, like this old clock on the walls of the entrance.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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In 1914, the Sociedad Sanitaria Israelita [Jewish Health Society] was founded in a modest building with the aim of providing medical attention to the colonies through the Clara hospital. The first ward was opened in 1929 and the second one in 1947. In 1982, it was named Hospital Dr. Yarcho after the renowned physician.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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A decorated roof, originally from that time, was painted to read like a mirror from the floor.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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The Museum of the Jewish Colonies was founded on October 19, 1985, in order to preserve the valuable objects and documents of the Jewish agricultural area. It is trying to prevent the invaluable historical heritage of the area from vanishing.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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A two-story building with balconies and a large upstairs hall was used by women during religious ceremonies.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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In the museum, visitors get a glimpse of the settlers' lifestyle through their valuable objects.  

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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While many synagogues in the area are shuttered and abandoned, this one is preserved, with an eclectic style and exquisite ornaments. It stands out because of its bright polychrome indoor decoration.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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Dr. Yarcho brought some of the best medical instruments from Europe to these farmlands in Argentina. 

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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Cultural life was big for the gauchos. This old and original cinema player was preserved following great efforts.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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Original collector boxes, a symbol of Jewish culture, represents the base of their success in these lands.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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In the museum, documents and pictures are displayed in different sections and classified by subject, including an area with photographs and brief biographies of settlers and descendents who became well known. It possesses the most thorough and complete records of Jewish immigration and settlement in Argentina.

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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Known as the Synagogue of the Arbetn (in Yiddish: workers or craftsmen), it was built by settlers from Old Europe who brought along their skills. 

(Marcelo Lombardi)

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A Star of David painted on the walls of this first synagogue, founded in 1895 by the first colonists. 

(Marcelo Lombardi)

The Last Jewish Gauchos in Argentina

A tight-knit, hundred-year-old Jewish community in Argentina is disappearing.