Sephardi, Jewish, Argentine: Creating Community and National Identity, 1880-1960

Sephardi, Jewish, Argentine: Creating Community and National Identity, 1880-1960

Sephardi, Jewish, Argentine: Creating Community and National Identity, 1880-1960

Sephardi, Jewish, Argentine: Creating Community and National Identity, 1880-1960

Synopsis

At the turn of the 20th century, Jews from North Africa and the Middle East were called Turcos ("Turks"), and they were seen as distinct from Ashkenazim, not even identified as Jews. Adriana M. Brodsky follows the history of Sephardim as they arrived in Argentina, created immigrant organizations, founded synagogues and cemeteries, and built strong ties with coreligionists around the country. She theorizes that fragmentation based on areas of origin gave way to the gradual construction of a single Sephardi identity, predicated both on Zionist identification (with the State of Israel) and "national" feelings (for Argentina), and that Sephardi Jews assumed leadership roles in national Jewish organizations once they integrated into the much larger Askenazi community. Rather than assume that Sephardi identity was fixed and unchanging, Brodsky highlights the strategic nature of this identity, constructed both from within the various Sephardi groups and from the outside, and reveals that Jewish identity must be understood as part of the process of becoming Argentine.

Excerpt

Istanbul native estela levy recalled in her AUTObiography:

On the night of January 12, 1919, violent riots marked the beginning of a
working-class outburst that later came to be called “The Tragic Week.” We
lived far from Once, the [Buenos Aires] neighborhood [in] which congregated a
great number of Ashkenazi Jews and where these virulent acts were taking
place. Those Jews suffered serious damage to their lives and possessions. We,
the Sephardim, were still protected by [people’s] ignorance of our origins. We
were thought to be turcos.

The riots, which began early in January as the police and the army attempted to disperse striking steelworkers in outlying working-class neighborhoods, drew in upper-middle-class nationalist young men who, fearing the influx of foreign ideologies, attacked areas in the center of Buenos Aires where “Russians [rusos] and Catalans” lived. the Hipólito Yrigoyen government, elected in 1916, read this working-class activism as a threat to the social order. in its view, this activity was carried out by “foreign antisocial groups,” and thus brought the issue of immigration— its dangers and benefits—to the fore. in this context of impending revolution and the need to defend the nation, the term rusos, in particular, came to be synonymous with “maximalists” (those who took up the extreme socialist position advocated by Russian Bolsheviks), “statelessness,” and “Jews.” the events of the night of January 12, then, targeted some but not all Jews. Levy and her family were saved from these nationalist attacks, she claimed, not because of the geographic distance between the events and the neighborhood where she resided, but because of the imagined distance between Sephardim and Ashkenazim . . .

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