The Jewish population in Argentina has fluctuated in numbers since its peak in the mid 20th century but the community has an endurable influence on the country’s culture, media and cuisine.
Jewish life is particularly lively in Buenos Aires, where 8.2% of the population is Jewish. Stars of David identify Jewish-owned businesses in the Once and Abasto business districts, the Argentine capital’s equivalent of New York’s Lower East Side. The more residential Jewish neighborhood of Villa Crespo is affectionately referred to as ‘Villa Kreplach‘ by locals.
Synagogues and Judaic community organizations can also be found in a number of provincial capitals throughout the country.
Jews in Sports, Film & TV in Argentina
Football/soccer is practically religion in Argentina. Jewish participation in the sport grew out of the city’s sport and social clubs and was key to the assimilation of newly arrivals from Eastern Europe. As outlined in the book, ‘Fútbol, Jews and the Making of Argentina,’ Villa Crespo’s soccer team Atlanta is the traditional club supported by Porteño Jews, highlighting the unique Jewish-Argentine identity that unites religious and non-religious Jews, Sephardic and Ashkenazi.
More than half of Argentina’s professional Jewish athletes have been football players. Those who follow South American football will be familiar with Jose Peckerman, former Argentinos Juniors player and manager of Colombia’s national team. Another name is Juan ‘Juampi’ Sorin, former World Cup national team player and coach who currently works as an announcer for ESPN.
Other prominent athletes include Olympic Bronze medal and World Cup winner in female field hockey, Giselle Andrea Kañevsky. She’s the granddaughter of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the most prominent rabbinic authorities in Ultra-orthodox Judaism.
Carolina Raquel Duer, a boxer whose family immigrated from Syria, was the first Jewish woman to win a World Boxing Championship in 2010, a match that was televised nationwide in Argentina. The former kibbbutznik known as the ‘Iron Barbie’ defended the super flyweight title six times and was invited by former president Cristina Kirchner to the Casa Rosada. Today she’s a TV boxing announcer for Argentina’s public television station.
One of two Argentine Jews in the International Jewish Sports Hall of fame is Daniela Yael Krukower, a Women’s World Judo Champion. The other was 1930s Austrian table tennis champ Erwin Kohn, who fled to Argentina in 1938 to become the country’s champion until 1952.
Buenos Aires has a thriving theater scene, and once had a large Yiddish theater scene. Even today there are humorous productions around the Once and Abasto neighborhood with titles such as, ‘Los cuentos del Rebe,’ (The Stories of Rebe), ‘Tangos con Varenikes‘ (Tangos with Varenikis — which includes tangos sung in Yiddish and Hebrew) and, ‘Oy, oy, hoy.’
The IFT Theater (Boulogne Sur Mer 549) is a small independent theater troupe born out of the Yiddish theater tradition in 1932 under the name ‘Idramst,’ Yiddish for ‘theater.’ It’s a member of the ICUF Federación de Entidades Culturales Judías de Argentina (Federation of Jewish Cultural Entities of Argentina).
In 1952 the troupe was able to purchase their own building. At its peak, IFT had a chorus, a drama school, a children’s ballet and an art gallery. The theater also hosted big Jewish names in Argentine theater such as Yordana Fain, Cipe Lincovsky, Anita Lang, and Elita Aizenberg. Today Teatro IFT hosts live independent theater productions in Spanish an average of five days a week.
In the 30s and 40s Buenos Aires had the largest Yiddish theater scene in the world aside from New York’s. And in the off season New York actors would make their way to Buenos Aires to star in productions here.
Jewish Portrayals in Argentine Media
In Argentine film, the stereotypical ‘immigrant Jewish merchant’ has long had a role, such as 1948’s Pelota de Trapo and 1952’s Ellos Nos Hiceron Así. Comedian Adolfo Stray (birth name: Straijer) also characterized the Porteño Jew on stage and his 1968 TV comedy program, El Superejecutivo Don Jacobo (The Super Executive, Mr. Jacobo).
As for contemporary mass media, the wildly popular Argentine primetime soap opera, ‘Los Graduados‘ (The Graduates) starred a stereotypical Jewish Argentine family, the Godzers who eat knishes and gelfite fish, smatter their conversations with Yiddish and whose father is, predictably, a fan of Atlanta soccer team.
La Rey de Once, (‘The Tenth Man’ is it’s English title instead of the direct translation, ‘The King of Once’) is the 12th full-length film from ‘New Argentine Cinema’ director Daniel Berman. The film premiered in the U.S. at the Tribeca Film Festival and, like most of Berman’s work, features a neurotic Jewish central character, drawing easy comparisons to the work of Woody Allen.
Jewish Influence on Tango
Jewish tangueros — tango dancers and musicians — also feature in Argentina’s musical history. Some of the ‘Russian Jews’ who arrived via the Wesser in 1889 carried instruments among their few belongings, and the influence of klezmer on tango is noticeable to the trained ear.
Performing as a musician — in what was then considered the ‘seedy’ world of tango — was one of a few occupations open to newly-arrived Eastern European Jews to Buenos Aires. Not surprisingly, among the early tango greats are names such as pianist Abraham Moisés ‘Alberto’ Soifer, bandoneón player Arturo Bernstein, and the prolific composer, Luis Rubistein.
Immigrants from all over influenced the birth of tango within Argentina and the mix of melancholy, despair, self-deprecation and humor found in the lyrics resonated across the pond as well. Many tango songs were written in eastern European ghettos before and after WWII such as the Yiddish tune, ‘Vu ahin zol ikh geyn‘ (Where Shall I Go?) by Igor S. Korntayer. Sadly, most of the tangos written in Eastern Europe leading up to the Holocaust were lost, but a few dozen, such as that of Korntayer’s were salvaged.
Yiddish tango tunes were being performed in Buenos Aires theaters as early as the 1920s. In contemporary music, there are groups such as the Yiddish Tango Club led by Gustavo Bulgash. The group fuses tango with Klezmer music, which Bulgash learned to play with his family as a child in Buenos Aires. At the annual Buenos Aires Jazz Festival visitors may hear klezmer among the eclectic mix that includes swing, be bob and tango-jazz fusion.
Kosher Restaurants in Buenos Aires
Most traditional Jewish food and kosher restaurants in Buenos Aires are focused around the neighborhoods of Once, Abasto and Villa Crespo. Thankfully there are many kosher dining options aside from the popular McDonalds in Abasto Shopping Mall, famous for being the only Rabbi-approved McDonalds in the Americas.
No visitor to Argentina can miss out on Argentina’s favorite snack food, savory empanadas. Empanadaría Kosher at Tucumán 2790 comes to the rescue with reasonably-priced empanadas and pizzas and is well worth a stop while sightseeing. The empanadas here are so popular with porteños (as residents of Buenos Aires are called) that they now have three more locations, including one on the second floor of the Abasto mall and another in Once, at Paso 719.
On the same block at Paso 745, Tov Lev features Kosher Shawarma, pastrami, apple latkes and Italian-inspired Argentine specialties prepared under the supervision of Rabbi Daniel Oppenheimer. For kibbeh, and other traditional Israeli and Sephardic food in simple surroundings, try the popular Yafo Kosher at Paso 747.
One of the city’s most popular options for a kosher ‘asado’ (barbecue meat) experience is the recently revamped Parilla Al Galope, one block from the Empanadaría Kosher, at Tucumán 2633.
Ajim Deli, right across the street from Empanadaría Kosher, at Tucumán 2620, offers shawarma, falafal, shnitzel, hot pastrami sandwiches, hummus, lajmashin and typical Argentine cuisine such as milanesas, steak and even ‘ñinos envueltos‘. It is open all day Sunday until Thursday and opens for a typical Buenos Aires’ late dinner at 9 p.m. on Saturdays.
For a more interactive and personalized Argentine food experience in the Palermo neighborhood, sign up for an afternoon or evening with the Jewish-owned Argentine Food Experience to learn how to make empanadas, eat steak like an Argentine (with plenty of Malbec of course) and prepare and drink the traditional tea, yerba mate.
The same owner, Alex Pels recently opened a similar second ‘food experience’ business, Asado Experience at Fogón, focusing on introducing visitors to the whole range of the traditional Argentine asado, or grilled meats.
By far the hippest spot for Jewish cuisine in Buenos Aires is the trendy fine dining bistro, Mishiguene (Mishiguene means ‘crazy’ in Yiddish). Although not strictly Kosher, chef Tomás Kalika offers a modern twist on traditional Ashkenazi and Sephardic recipes including kugel, kreplach, borscht, gefilte fish and pastrami cooked the Argentine way — on a grill.
Kalika’s ancestors are from Russia and Poland. He learned to cook at Israeli ‘MasterChef’ host, Eyal Shani’s restaurant, Oceanus, in Jerusalem. Located in Palermo at Lafinur 3368, Mishiguene is unmistakably Jewish with yiddishkeit decor and live Klezmzer music on Friday nights. While the restaurant has received praise as the ‘best Jewish food in South America,’ be warned that Mishiguene might be ‘crazily priced’ for visitors from Jewish food capitals such as Tel Aviv, New York or London.
Those craving sushi should head to Sushi Ko Kosher on the same block, at Lafinur 3305. Pichiklin Sushi is another popular option with two locations, in Once and Belgrano.
For a reasonably-priced steak meal in the Belgrano neighborhood, there is El Paisano Kosher House, at O’Higgins 2358, which is run by the local Chabad.
The hottest eatery for pastrami reuben sandwich is the Jewish deli, La Crespo, at Thames 613 in the Villa Crespo neighborhood. They also serve up otherwise elusive lox and cream cheese bagels, varenyky, latkes, knishes and strudel and cheesecake. For pastrami with homemade pickles and gourmet celiac dishes in Palermo, try La Pastroneria, at El Salvador 6026.
For a nice tavern with sabich and shwarmas and an outdoor seating area in Palermo try Benaim, Gorriti 4015. Also in Palermo is Hola Jacoba which serves up Sephardi and Ashkenazi plates including kippes, latkes, tabuleh, felafel and sambuzek at Thames 1801.
For a drink or coffee break, take a step back in time to visit Cafe San Bernardo, Av. Corrientes 5436, a traditional gathering place for Jewish intellectuals in Villa Crespo. Founded in 1912, this no-nonsense bar (one of 92 bars recognized by the city for its historic value) and billiard hall is more commonly known as ‘El Sanber.‘ It became the place newly arrived young Ashkanazi Jews went to talk politics and play games such as dominoes and the Argentine card game, truco. Until a couple of years ago it was open 24 hours much like other historic bars such as San Telmo‘s Bar Britanico, but after 60 years of never closing, they now close for a well-deserved siesta at 5 a.m. for a few hours.
Just wandering around Once and Abasto, visitors will find plenty of kosher butchers and bakeries. Among the many bakeries are Taam Tov Av. Corrientes 2922, (a stop on our private Jewish Buenos Aires Literary Walking Tour) which sells such as facturas, leikach (Honey cakes), borsht pletzalech (onion bread) and matzah. Another good bet for bread and pastries is La Bakery Kosher, Tucuman 2892. They also have a basic eatery with pizzas, pastas, salads and empanadas.
Those staying Palermo can stock up at Palermo Kosher supermarket at Ugarteche 3033 or Open Kosher supermarket at Molde 2455. The Belgrano neighborhood also has a cluster of Jewish businesses surrounding Buenos Aires’ Chinatown. For groceries there’s and nearby Tatami Kosher sushi, the previously mentioned Beit Jabad of Belgrano’s restaurant, El Paisano and MANA, a deli which offers up prepared food for take out including pickled cabbage salad and ‘fusion’ food such as goulash with ñoquis.
L’Chaim: Argentine Kosher Wine
At the turn of the 21st century overseas demand for Argentine Kosher wine boomed along with the general Argentine wine market. Argentine Malbec and Torrontes are unique varietals that should be enjoyed on vacation because today they are hard to find overseas. Export costs, the instability of Argentina’s economy, and a large price tag for international Kosher certification make it hard for Argentine winemakers to compete with Kosher wine makers in Europe.
Argentina’s larger wineries such as Finca La Celia have since cut their production of Kosher wines but other producers such as Finca 613 continue to satisfy the steady demand. Their Tariag line of Kosher varietals including Torrontes, Malbec, sparkling wines and champagnes and are aimed largely toward Argentina’s internal market. Most high-end wine stores in Buenos Aires can help visitors find a decent Kosher wine and some restaurants don’t mind if you bring your own bottle and will just charge a corkage fee.
Buenos Aires Jewish Tours
This boutique walking tour led by a local starts at 10:30 a.m. in the Once neighborhood.
The three-hour walking tour is centered around the traditionally Jewish neighborhood of Once. As part of the tour, the group reads short texts by important Argentine Jewish writers such as Alberto Gerchunoff and César Tiempo while enjoying a beverage in a typical neighborhood cafe.
Synagogues & Jewish Attractions Around Argentina
Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA)
Tel : 4959-8800
Also known as the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Society AMIA is central to Jewish life in Buenos Aires. They founded the first Jewish cemetery in the city and offer educational and cultural activities for all ages.
After the devastating terror attack here in 1994 in which 85 people were killed tours of ground floor exhibition should be arranged in advance, through local friends who are members, or certified tour agencies.
Communidad Or Israel
A synagogue founded in 1911. Until the 70s a school here taught Yiddish and Torah studies. Today, Aside from Shabbat and other holiday services, they host concerts, talks and family activities. On their centenary they restored, modernized and re-inaugurated the current temple in the Caballito neighborhood.
Fundación Pardes (spiritually-focused Jewish Organization)
Currently broken link: pardes.org.ar
Plaza Embajada de Israel (Memorial Plaza) — A memorial for the victims of the 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy
Arroyo and Suipacha Streets
Salvador Kibrick Jewish Museum
— The permanent collection here highlights the Jewish immigrant experience to Argentina, including the Jewish colonies.
Open: Mon-Fri, 10 a.m. -6 p.m.
Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano Marshall T. Meyer
— Academic , cultural and religious center of the Conservative Religious Movement in Argentina with an important Jewish Sciences Library
Jose Hernandez 1750
La Sociedad Hebraica Argentina (Argentine Hebrew Society) — A large 14-floor social and sport club. They also have a suburban center in Pilar, Province of Buenos Aires.
Club Náutico Hacoaj is another sports and social club in the northern suburb of Tigre, originally founded in 1935 as the Club Náutico Israelita.
Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz
Often called Argentina’s ‘second city’ and the largest city in Sante Fe province, Rosario has a population of about 20,000 Jews.
Beit Jabad Rosario (Orthodox)
Mendoza 1557 1-A
Rosario, Santa Fe
Tel: (41) 260-208
Historic Communal Museum of the Jewish Colonization of Moisés Ville
25 de Mayo 188
Tel: (03409) 420-665
Moises Ville (aka ‘Kiryat Moshe’) is a small town that represents an interesting part of Argentine Jewish history, as it was here that Argentina’s first agrarian settlement was established in 1889. While the population is only a few hundred today, there are three synagogues, but no Rabbi. Most of the residents have moved to Rosario, Buenos Aires or Israel. Not many people reach here for tourism, but anyone who does will typically be given a key to the synagogue and library.
Keep in mind that because of terrorist attacks of the 1990s, most synagogues will ask for identification before allowing anyone to enter, so don’t forget your I.D. Most synagogues across the country have a larger Shabbat service on Friday night rather than Saturday morning.
Gran Templo Paso — Considered one of South America’s most beautiful temples, this 2,000 capacity temple was built in 1929 by the Ashkanazi community.
Once, Buenos Aires
Sinagoga de la Congregacion Israelita de la Republica Argentina, founded in 1897 is one of the city’s oldest synagogues. The Roman-Byzantine style synagogue has room for 1,000 worshipers. Next door is the Jewish Museum.
Once, Buenos Aires
Templo Camargo — A Sephardi orthodox synagogue with Buenos Aires’ largest kehillah in the Villa Crespo neighbohood.
Comunidad Dor Jadash — Another congregation with over one hundred years of history, founded in 1912 by Lithuanin, Polish and Russian immigrants. This community in Villa Crespo has a nice temple and lots of activities for all ages with workshops such as ‘Embracing Judiasm,’ Kabbalah and Rikudim Israel folk dance.
Yesod Hadat —Large temple established by Sephardic Community
La Valle 2249
Entre Ríos: Jewish Attractions
Jewish Museum of Entre Ríos
Entre Ríos 476
Tel: (345) 421-4088
Hours: Mon-Fri & Sundays, 8:30 to 12:30 p.m.
Villa Clara was another Jewish agrarian settlement set up by the philanthropist Baron de Hirsh — in fact the town is named after his wife, Clara. The town has almost 3,000 residents and the history museum has objects and paperwork that highlight the journey of the early Jewish settlers and their daily life.
Beit Jabad Concordia (Orthodox Synagogue)
Jabad Lubavitch Cordoba
Tel: (3514) 710-223
Socieda Israelita de Beneficencia
Beit Jabad Tucumán — Orthodox
Tel: (381) 4248-892