First Impressions of Judaism in Argentina

I've been here for almost 3 weeks now, and for a little over half that time, I have been in various Jewish centered places. Where I work for starters, caters to the needs of children, families and elderly Jews alike.  There is an Israeli hostel, created by a wealthy man who wanted to make sure Jews and Israeli's visiting Buenos Aires would have a place to go during the holidays. And finally, I went to see Hebraica, a Jewish community center, that at times resembles a typical Argentine fútbol club as it has many sports teams and other competitive options for the adolescents involved there.

What struck me most initially was just how many Jews there seem to be in BA.  The place I work at and Hebraica are huge buildings, employing a good number of people.  The individuals I met at the Israeli hostel came from all over the country and world.  Even walking down the street I sometimes see stores with names such as Lajaim (pronounced L'chaim). The community here strikes me as vast, and maybe due to their numbers or the laid back culture here, it seems to be a relatively casual thing to be a Jew in Argentina.  

What I mean to say is this. When I go to Europe or any another country or city really besides NYC, USA where I am from, I am quite obviously in the minority, and at times I don't really like to share that I am Jewish.  I don't think that in this day and age people tend to be anti-Semitic, but especially in some European countries, you never really know how people will react to your being Jewish.  Here, on the other hand, I'm not really worried about people’s reactions when finding out, and in fact I'm the one who seems surprised to meet another fellow Jew. 

A prime example of this is from work the other day, when I was chatting with a coworker as we were helping to set up a little event for the kids at Baby Help to teach them about Rosh Hashanah.  I assumed my coworker was Jewish, and wanted to find out more about her family history.  She soon told me she was not, but added that she kind of wished she were.  She thought that our culture and history was very interesting, and the stories told on our holidays very beautiful and moving.  I asked her if everyone else thought that way, after all there was a bombing here only a few years ago, which made it necessary to have barricades in front of all Jewish buildings.

She said that for her part, she really thought that people here respect each other's beliefs, religion included.  This made me very happy to say the least, and made me understand even further how the Jewish community was really able to grow and solidify itself here. 

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