During the first half of January my wife, Ines, and I visited Buenos Aires, my wife’s birth place. I had spent three years there, from 1966-1969, as the Rabbi of a nascent Reform Congregation named Emanuel. The last time we were in Argentina was thirteen years ago. Our primary purpose now was to visit family, not to do tourism. The weather was great (it is summer there), much better than the cold and snowy days we left behind.
We found Buenos Aires much changed. It is now a sprawling capital of about 13 million people (out of 36 million in the whole country). Areas we used to consider as fancy are no longer so. For example, Harrods, a large department store downtown on Florida Str. is closed, and the street, no longer open to automobile traffic, is less glamorous. Similarly, the old theatre in the touristic Boca section does not exist, though people still dance the tango in the local cafes located in the small plaza.
Buenos Aires always boasted of delicious food. This is still the case. The “asados” (different cuts of grilled meat) are delicious. The restaurants in the Costanera are doing brisk business serving regulars and tourists. There is a new development called Puerto Madero, which is modern, fancy and attractive. Built on both sides of the Rio de la Plata, it offers the best culinary delights of the city. The new museums, Portabas and Malba, contain some of the most attractive exhibits. (We saw a wonderful display of Andy Warhol paintings). The country still has financial problems. During our stay the US imposed a financial embargo on the Argentinean Federal Bank, but lifted it within a week. The president of the country and the vice-president don’t talk to one another. Food and transportation are less expensive than Boston, but clothing and electronics cost more.
The Jewish community is smaller than my time. It is estimated that there are about 180,000 Jews now in Argentina, with the majority living in the capital. (When I was there, the number was about 250,000). Because of anti-Semitism in the 70’s, some Jews left for Spain, Venezuela or Israel. However, a new structure is emerging that is worthy of note. My colleague Rabbi Sergio Bergman, one of my successors in Emanuel, has created a Jewish Foundation to which three liberal congregations belong, along with a private Jewish school that is highly regarded in the community.
Ines and I attended a Friday night service at NCI-Emanuel synagogue and were very moved by the Sabbath spirit that was created through song and prayer. But the orientation is much more traditional than my time.
Traveling to Buenos Aires on Aerolineas Argentinas was easy and fun, but the return to the States was horrible; repeated schedule changes, alleged mechanical problems etc. We finally managed to leave a day early and spent a delightful sunny day in Miami Beach. It was wonderful to go and visit, but also great to come back.