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Jewish Buenos Aires

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Argentina is home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, currently estimated at around 185,000, although this is around one third of its peak figure in the 1950s, since when many have migrated to Israel, Europe and the United States. The majority live in Buenos Aires; the more well-to-do in Belgrano, and the lower middle classes in Once. The latter is where you’ll find most of the city’s kosher restaurants, especially on the streets around Pueyrredón between Córdoba and Corrientes. Approximately eighty synagogues dot the city, including the large Central Synagogue, along with more than seventy Jewish educational institutions.

The first Jewish immigrants arrived in Argentina in the early seventeenth century but were officially excluded from colonial society by the Spanish authorities. Following independence Jews were openly allowed to settle and began moving in from France and other Western European countries in the early nineteenth century; Jewish refugees later fled here in large numbers from pogroms and persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe, and were commonly known as “rusos”, a term still often used erroneously to refer to all Jews (two-thirds of whom are Ashkenazi).

In 1938 the foreign minister under President Ortiz signed an infamous circular that effectively instructed Argentine consulates not to issue visas to Jews seeking asylum from Nazi Germany. Perón’s government was one of the first to recognize the State of Israel, but he openly admired Mussolini, covertly hampered Jewish immigration and notoriously allowed Nazi war criminals to settle in Argentina, including Adolf Eichmann, an SS officer who masterminded the systematic massacre of Jews in Central Europe. In 1960 Eichmann was abducted from a Buenos Aires suburb, where he worked for Mercedes Benz, by Mossad and Shin Bet agents and whisked off for trial and execution in Jerusalem.

The Jewish community was the target of two of the country’s most murderous terrorist attacks: a bomb explosion at the Israeli Embassy in 1992, in which 29 people died, and another at the headquarters of AMIA, the Argentine Jewish association, in 1994, which killed 85 people. In 2006, Argentine prosecutors officially accused the Iranian government and Hezbollah of ordering the bombings, a charge Teheran adamantly denies, but the crimes have never been properly resolved. A monument in Plaza Lavalle remembers those who lost their lives in both attacks – another in the Plaza Embajada de Israel, at the corner of Arroyo and Suipacha, Retiro, focuses on the loss of life in the 1992 atrocity, with one lime tree representing each victim.

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