The Jewish Community of Comodoro Rivadavia
The phenomenon of migrations has
separated and united families, has destroyed old and created
new boundaries. Since the last decades of the nineteenth
century, Argentina has been a crucial witness of such
migration. Among the immigrants who came to South America
from all around the world, many Jews arrived on the coasts
of Argentina. They established themselves in different
settlements of the provinces of Entre Ríos, Santa
Fe, La Pampa and Buenos Aires, and in the capital city
and its surrounding areas. Many families received plots
of land from the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA)
at the end of the nineteenth century, and settled in rural
areas. In later decades, in different parts of the country,
Jewish immigrants established themselves in other non-agrarian
settlements, such as Comodoro Rivadavia in Patagonia.
Many different authors have studied the
Jewish immigration to Argentina. However, most focus
on either agrarian settlements or the capital city
of Buenos Aires and the outlying areas. Study has
yet to be devoted to Jews in Comodoro Rivadavia in the province
of Chubut. To local people, it is apparent that Jews
have been living in the city for decades, but because
of its relatively small population, little attention has
been given to the Jewish community. This study
focuses on the experience of Jews in Comodoro
Rivadavia and also enlarges the knowledge about the Jewish
experience in Argentina during the 20th and 21st centuries.
When did Jews begin migrating to Comodoro?
Did they form family networks? Did they arrive in large
groups, as families, or as individuals? What
did they seek in moving to the city? Was it a permanent
or temporary decision? Do these Jewish immigrants share particular characteristics, and have these characteristics
changed over generations? What does being Jewish in Comodoro
mean? In order to answer these questions, one must analyze the history of the Jewish community in Comodoro
Rivadavia, from before the creation of the Israeli Association
in the early 1960’s until today. In so doing, the special characteristics
shared among members of the Israeli Association and
the way the members' Judaism has affected
the development of the community take on a special importance. In order to understand the Jewish
experience in the city of Comodoro
Rivadavia, one must also consider
external political, economic, and
geographic factors of the 20th and the 21st centuries.
here for a Video on the Israeli Association
The 1940’s and 1950’s: Early Community
Fernando Kazakevich, a native of Comodoro Rivadavia, related,
"My father told me that when he arrived in Comodoro
in the 1940’s, there were many meetings organized
by Jews, who were worried about the events of the Second
World War. According to him, and other people who agree
with him, 400 Jews used to gather in lounges.” In
addition to the social meetings, Jewish immigrants in Comodoro would also gather
to commemorate Jewish festivities. The immigrants had received
a strong religious education in Europe and thus kept their traditions
alive in the new settlement despite certain limitations. Mr. Kazakevich remembered, “There was no rabbi, but all
of that generation was a religious one.” Therefore,
even though there no formal Jewish leader existed, the main
rituals were performed by the immigrants themselves who
had carried with them the knowledge of Jewish law and traditions.
1950's: More Jews come to Comodoro
the 1950’s, the Jewish presence in Comodoro Rivadavia
grew. More people started to migrate to Patagonia from other
parts of Argentina, and many families were having children
in the city. Although the majority of Jews who moved
to the city were Ashkenazim and came with their families,
there were exceptions. For example, Benjamin Lerea, whose
parents came from Esmirna, is a Sephardic Jew. Born
in 1936 in the province of Corrientes, Lerea spent his childhood
in Ibarreta, Formosa and his teenage years in Buenos Aires.
He then moved to Comodoro on his own in the 1950’s and
worked for various private oil companies over a 10-year period.
While some people came alone and others with their
families, the main motivation to move to Comodoro
was economic due to the city's employment opportunities. Lerea's wife, Marta Raquel
Falicoff, was born in the capital city of Buenos Aires in
1940, but moved to Comodoro
with her family in 1949. Her grandparents were Romanian.
For many decades prior to the creation
of the Israeli Association, Samuel Magidow was the main cantor during
the religious ceremonies. His son Jacobo recalled, "During the Jewish
commemorations, my father used to sing. He did not need
a book; he knew it very deeply. He had such a voice... with
a feeling, with a tonality... And for many years he sang
in the Society. Since the moment he came here, in ‘37…
he never stopped singing." He continued, "Every
year they waited for him so that he could sing. They would
always help each other, but the main prayers were always
performed by my father."
Late 1960’s, and the 1970’s:
Re-emigration, and Generational Change
During the late 1960’s and early
1970’s two major phenomena affected the
Jewish community of Comodoro Rivadavia and led to a decrease
in the membership of the Israeli Association. One of them
was “re-emigration,” or the resettlement of
many Jews who moved to Buenos Aires or other big cities.
The other main shift that occurred in the late 1960’s and
early 1970’s was a generational change. During these
years, many Jewish immigrants from the older generations
passed away. These elders were the ones who had received a
strong Jewish education and had religious knowledge. Therefore, without an institution to preserve their knowledge, many
rituals died along with the elders.
Most families have buried
their deceased in Buenos Aires because a Jewish cemetery does not exist in Comodoro. A few Jews, including Jose Mekler’s
three-year-old brother and the parents of Marta Falicoff de Lerea’s, are buried in the municipal cemetery of Comodoro
Rivadavia. Fernando Kazakevich explained the significance of burial grounds: “When
my father was the president, the municipality offered him
a terrain to have a cemetery. But it is not only about having
a cemetery; it is necessary to be able to construct it,
to maintain it, and somebody must perform the ceremony.
If there is no religious authority, there is no rabbi, there
is nobody, it is impossible... So, everyone was thinking
about Buenos Aires. If somebody died they wanted to have
him or her buried in Buenos Aires.”
The Glinski Case
Although many Jewish families left Comodoro
Rivadavia, a few decided to remain in the city because of
economic stability or the birth of their children. This
is the case of Gregorio Glinski, current president of the
Israeli Association, and his family. He related his story:
"[My parents] had intended to come
here for two years to make some money and later move to
Buenos Aires. First, my sister Sara was born, and later I was
born. It was always their dream to live in Buenos Aires
so that they could live in a more important Jewish community,
with Jewish education for their children. But this was never
to happen, and it is the classic case of a family of immigrants
who, as we say in Comodoro, lived 'with their suitcases prepared
behind their door,' so that when the moment came they could
return…concretely to Buenos Aires…In our case,
that never occurred and we now stand here firmly."
Beginning in the middle
1980s, some Jews who had been studying in Buenos Aires,
such as Fernando and Gregorio, returned to Comodoro, while others
came to the city for the first time, like Adriana Nillni.
In contrast to earlier decades, those who moved to Comodoro Rivadavia in the
returned or arrived with the initial intention of permanently settling
in the city.
What does it mean to be Jewish
in Comodoro Rivadavia?
In large Jewish communities
such as those in Buenos Aires, education played a large
role in maintaining Jewish identity. As Dora Schwarzstein
articulated the emphasis on education, “The Jewish community in Buenos Aires
gave education a place of preference in community life.
It was the guarantee of the continuity of the Jews, and
a fence to prevent assimilation to the majority of society
and its culture” (Schwarzstein 134). In the case
of Comodoro, Jewish education was unavailable, so Jews
had to find other ways to pass on values and
traditions. As occurred in Buenos Aires with certain
secular movements, Jews “assumed a lay Jewish identity,
while respecting certain practices related to tradition,
such as celebrating certain festivities, Bar’Mitzvah,
the Jewish marriage, or burying the dead in cemeteries
from the [Jewish] community” (Schwarzstein 131).
In Comodoro, being Jewish is part of an identity expressed more through traditions and culture than through religious practices. Therefore, since the 1990’s,
different activities focusing
on the cultural and traditional aspects of Judaism have been organized in order to foster a connection with Jewish heritage among children and adults.
The 1990s: The Festival of Foreign
The Festival of Foreign
Communities is organized annually and is the most important
event in the Comodoro Rivadavia calendar. Diverse
communities from a variety of national origins and ethnicities
participate in the celebration by showcasing their culture
through artistic performances and cuisine. The Israeli Association
participated in the event from 1992 to 1999. The participation
of the Jewish community in the Festival of Foreign Communities had two positive
effects. First, more people learned about the Israeli Association, and second,
the Festival inspired the creation of a dancing group, a choir, and a musical group, each requiring more dedication to the Association.
Regina Gaska elaborated on the Association's experience with the Festival:
"With the invitation of the foreign collectivities
to participate in the fair… it was necessary to prepare
a stand [to sell food]; it was necessary to put ourselves
in agreement. The first year in the fair we participated
solely with a stand... A dancing group of the Israelite
Association was created and the following year we participated
with the stand and two dancing groups, one with children,
and the other one with adults, who danced only for a single
The late 1990's: A Radio Program
Since 1999, the current
Association president, Gregorio Glinski, and his wife Regina Gaska have
had a two-hour radio program about Jewish culture every
Saturday morning called Sabbath Shalom.
In the words of Mr. Glinski,
"In this program we try to reflect everything that
the community does, and also we chat with people. Not only Jews, but also general members of the community
of Comodoro Rivadavia interested in
knowing about what we do, call by phone. We narrate the Jewish traditions, Jewish history, the history of Argentine Jews, and
the history of Jews from Comodoro. We enjoy it a lot
and we like it; it helps us always be connected with
the need to study, to learn, [and] to communicate."
25 families, about 100 people, participate
in the Israeli Association’s main activities. Nevertheless, according
to Gregorio Glinski, who has searched for Jewish surnames, there are at least 150 families with Jewish surnames in Comodoro Rivadavia. Of the 25
families associated with the Israeli Association, only 10
to 15 families participate each time they organize
an activity. Thus, the community is maintained by only a few members,
most of whom are either professionals or storeowners.
This small community aims to preserve Judaism by maintaining Jewish tradition, celebrating principal festivities, and organizing youth activities. The adults gather occasionally, but for
some, just being Jewish does not warrant gatherings. Many adults who have lived in Comodoro
Rivadavia all their lives never received a Jewish education. Moreover,
many of them consider themselves atheists or non-believers.
They do, however, respect the family traditions associated
with Judaism and believe in passing on these customs to younger generations. Also, some
non-Jews participate in the activities organized by the
Israeli Association due to frequent intermarriage between Jews and gentiles. The question
of who can be a member of the Israeli Association thus takes on a new significance. Fernando explained, “Who
would be Jewish? ... We do not discriminate against mixed
matrimonies… we are really open about it.”
To reflect, what is the goal of this community?
Has it changed through the decades? The Israeli Association offers
a place for social gathering and occasional ritual
ceremonies. The Association resembles a lay social club more than an entity associated with religious practices. What maintains the Association
today is common origin, shared history, traditions, and a desire for the preservation of Jewish cultural identity.