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Memory, Oblivion, and Jewish Culture in Latin America

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    Memory, Oblivion, and Jewish Culture in Latin America
    Book Description:

    Latin America has been a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution from 1492, when Sepharad Jews were expelled from Spain, until well into the twentieth century, when European Jews sought sanctuary there from the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. Vibrant Jewish communities have deep roots in countries such as Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, and Chile-though members of these communities have at times experienced the pain of being "the other," ostracized by Christian society and even tortured by military governments. While commonalities of religion and culture link these communities across time and national boundaries, the Jewish experience in Latin America is irreducible to a single perspective. Only a multitude of voices can express it.

    This anthology gathers fifteen essays by historians, creative writers, artists, literary scholars, anthropologists, and social scientists who collectively tell the story of Jewish life in Latin America. Some of the pieces are personal tales of exile and survival; some explore Jewish humor and its role in amalgamating histories of past and present; and others look at serious episodes of political persecution and military dictatorship. As a whole, these challenging essays ask what Jewish identity is in Latin America and how it changes throughout history. They leave us to ponder the tantalizing question: Does being Jewish in the Americas speak to a transitory history or a more permanent one?

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79686-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxiv)

    I grew up in Valparaíso, Chile, the port city to which most of my family emigrated from eastern Europe and Russia and where my family has lived for four generations; they married, had children, and helped build the first Jewish community there, beginning with a school and a burial society. But most of all, they created a sense of home and permanence in this very impermanent world, especially for Jews.

    It was in my earliest years that I developed a passion to tell stories and to listen to others weave their tales. We used to gather at the table, and...

  5. SECTION I. Sephardim in Our Memory

    • Remembering Sepharad
      (pp. 3-14)

      Accompanying Christopher Columbus on board theSanta Maríaas it left the Iberian Peninsula on August 3, 1492, was Luis de Torres. De Torres, a polyglot, was the expedition’s interpreter. Like many other Iberian Jews, de Torres had recently converted to Christianity in an attempt to preserve his right to live in Sepharad, the land Iberian Jews had inhabited for twelve hundred years. The Edict of Expulsion, dated March 31, 1492, deprived Jews of all their rights and gave them three months to put their affairs in order and go into exile. Implicit in the edict was exemption if Jews...

    • The Sephardic Legacy
      (pp. 15-30)

      In chapter 54 of the second part ofThe Adventures of Don Quixote, it is written:

      Thou knowest well, neighbour and friend Sancho Panza, how the proclamation or edict his Majesty commanded to be issued against those of my nation filled us all with terror and dismay; me at least it did, insomuch that I think before the time granted us for quitting Spain was out, the full force of the penalty had already fallen upon me and upon my children. I decided, then, and I think wisely (just like one who knows that at a certain date the house...

  6. SECTION II. Journeys

    • Tuesday Is a Good Day
      (pp. 33-46)

      “Tuesday is a good day!” The sentence keeps echoing in my head. “Tuesday is a good day!”

      I am standing alone in the middle of my room. I barely recognize it. A chair and a bed are all that is left. The room has a monastic appearance. I look around. The walls are bare; several holes, like scars after a case of smallpox, break up their smooth, monotonous surface. This is where, throughout my adolescence, I hung various meaningful mementos. Now, everything has been removed. Gone are the maps of China and Europe where, assiduously, for the last six years,...

    • My Panama
      (pp. 47-60)

      Not that it was any of my doing: running from the Nazis, we were penniless, frightened, wearing out. In the terror of flight and confusion I came early from my mother’s womb, popping out on the ship that was taking us to Panama. Was it a premonition that mine was not to be the ease of a citizen relaxed in the amniotic fluid of home? And it was a while after I emerged before I caught even a glimpse of the sea-green Caribbean on whose shores in Colón we lived for the first ten years of my life.

      Now the...

    • A Journey through My Life and Latin American Jewish Studies
      (pp. 61-74)

      Half drunk, the young Argentine radical rightist, or Nacionalista, looked me in the eye and claimed that Hitler hadn’t killed any Jews. Well, maybe he had killed one million, but not six million. Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy.

      Perhaps I could excuse his remarks, given his youth and state of inebriation, but another Nacionalista, considerably older, more prominent, and sober, agreed with his young friend. He informed me that British propaganda during World War II had invented the myth of the Holocaust, which the Jews had perpetuated in order to reap reparations payments from Germany.

      These remarks left me...

  7. SECTION III. The Paradox of Communities

    • Chile and the Nazis
      (pp. 77-90)

      Chile did not become a World War II belligerent until February 1945. Until January 1943 it was a neutral country, like Switzerland, Sweden, or the Irish Free State, maintaining diplomatic relations with both Axis and Allied countries. Except for Argentina, all the other Latin American republics had severed their ties with the Axis early in 1942 after an Inter-American conference at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

      Chile had had extensive ties with Germany since the mid-nineteenth century. The Chilean army managed to defeat the Araucanian Indians and in the process opened land south of the Bío-Bío River (near Concepción) to European...

      (pp. 91-100)

      Whenever I revisit my childhood, I focus on that place in my mind where I store my memories. If memories were lined up in rows, like asparagus stalks, I could find what I need immediately. But memories don’t behave that way. They’re more like beads that pop their string and roll away into the far corners of the mind. My only comfort is in knowing the memories are there—somewhere—even if I don’t always find them.

      What I have managed to salvage are those things no one else in my family bothered to keep track of. I have a...

      (pp. 101-112)

      Four years ago, I was invited to collaborate with a major American Jewish publication that covers developments in Jewish communities around the world on an annual basis. The publication focuses on significant communities of Jews in the contemporary world, but each issue also includes reports on smaller communities; although less significant numerically and politically, these serve as barometers of the intergroup relationships between local populations and Jews.

      The Mexican Jewish community had been the subject of much of my published scholarly writing. It had been my home, where my family lives, and had nurtured the roots of my Jewish identity....

  8. SECTION IV. A Literature of Transformation

    • The Heterogeneous Jewish Wit of Margo Glantz
      (pp. 115-130)

      Margo Glantz (b. 1930) is a celebrated Mexican critic and writer known for her biting wit, awareness of gender issues, and encyclopedic knowledge of both literary and mass culture. She has always been known for her comic gifts, but it is only in recent decades that she has also been singled out as a Jewish Mexican writer. Before examining the characteristic forms in which Glantz’s comic spirit manifests itself, some but not all of which may be called “Jewish wit,” let me summarize some relevant biographical facts. These are culled principally from Glantz’s heterogeneous textLas genealogías(1981).¹ This work...

    • Preserving the Family Album in Letargo by Perla Suez
      (pp. 131-146)

      In June 2000 the Argentine writer Perla Suez sent me her novelLetargo, which had just been released by the Editorial Norma in Buenos Aires. After having read Suez’s previously published works, such asMemorias de VladimirandDimitri en la tormenta, both award-winning novels for children, I looked forward to readingLetargo, her first novel written for adults.¹ The book came inscribed with the following dedication:

      For Rhonda, with all my affection, as I await her valuable opinion of these, my little gray characters who emerged from the recesses of my memory when I heard their perturbing cries.


  9. SECTION V. Culture, History, and Representation

      (pp. 149-162)

      On July 18, 1994, at exactly 9:53 a.m., on Pasteur Street in central Buenos Aires a small truck loaded with explosives slammed into the front portal of the seven-story headquarters of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA). The building, with its black marble facade, had long given the impression of invulnerability. However, within seconds it collapsed. The explosion itself and the falling debris killed or maimed most of those inside, many in neighboring buildings, and passersby. Despite intense relief efforts, eighty-five people, twenty-five of them AMIA employees, died, and an estimated two hundred fifty were injured. Many of the casualties...

    • Nationalism, Education, and Identity: ARGENTINE JEWS AND CATHOLIC RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION, 1943–1955
      (pp. 163-176)

      In the midst of World War II, as they struggled against the limitations imposed on Jewish immigration while their brothers and sisters were being sent to the death camps in Europe, Argentine Jews were forced to face yet another challenge. In December 1943 the military government that had taken power in Buenos Aires six months earlier published a decree instituting Catholic education in all state schools. In the next decade, the Jewish community of this South American republic had to contend with governments that regarded Catholicism as a basic ingredient of Argentine nationalism. Non-Catholic Argentines, therefore, found themselves in a...

    • From Gauchos judíos to Ídishe mames posmodernas: POPULAR JEWISH CULTURE IN BUENOS AIRES
      (pp. 177-206)

      All research endeavors have a history. For years now I have focused my research on Latin American Jewish literary and cultural studies. This essay is born of that interest, although it had a rather long, nagging gestation period. As a consumer and collector of cultural (by)products, and in an effort to satisfy my own capricious impulses, I have managed to assemble a relatively significant and rather curious assortment of materials related to the Jewish experience in Argentina. Among these items are first editions of literary texts, films, weighty coffee-table books, postage stamps, first-day covers that commemorate Jewish colonization, cookbooks, and...

      (pp. 207-220)

      Gabriel Valansi (b. 1959) is one of a group of eleven Argentine photographers who were featured in a 1999 exhibition,Myths, Dreams, and Realities in Contemporary Argentine Photography, at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York; he works as both a professor of photography at the University of Buenos Aires and an artistic adviser at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. He is also a contributor to the photography magazineFotomundo(founded in 1966).

      Valansi’s work is radically different from that of the other participants in the ICP exhibition, in the sense that it essentially does...

    • While Waiting for the Ferry to Cuba: AFTERTHOUGHTS ABOUT ADIO KERIDA
      (pp. 221-234)

      In some ways you might say that my entire life was a kind of preparation for making my documentary,Adio Kerida(Goodbye Dear Love). After all, the film is about Cuban Jews and I am a Cuban Jew. Or rather, I’m a Cuban-American Jew or a Jewish Cuban-American. Or, as they say in Miami, I’m a “Juban.” I was born a Jew in Cuba and came to the United States as a child. I grew up in New York, where I spoke Spanish at home and learned to speak English in school, and have spent a large part of my...

    • La menora de la alegría PARA JOSEFINA AGOSÍN
      (pp. 235-238)

      Como un llamado de bosques

      O presagios entre las brumas,

      Regresas a la tierra

      Con tus trajes ocres

      Y tus pasos que borran huellas.

      Eres tú abuela mía,

      Ángel de la memoria

      Y de la historia.

      Regresas en este año nuevo

      Para asegurarme de la perdurabilidad

      De la ternura.

      Tus ojos se han vuelto espesos como la resina

      De los árboles,

      Como la miel que cada año degustamos en la

      Promesa de los tiempos dulces.

      Me gusta sentirme confundida ante tu presencia en la

      Ambigüedad de lo que es real.

      Pero es real esta memoria mía de tu risa,


  10. Index
    (pp. 239-248)