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Cholent with the Gauchos

Ari Greenspan and Ari Z. Zivotofsky

We knew there were large Jewish communities in the big cities of Argentina, but entire kehillos of Jewish ranchers on the vast South American pampas? Although today the town of Moises Ville is but a remnant of its Jewish heyday, we were able to meet the last of the Yiddishe gauchos, whose grandparents fled from pogroms and oppression to stake out their turf in the Southern Hemisphere.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Although all of us have heard about fascinating or far-flung Jewish communities around the globe, it’s always hard to imagine something so different from how we live. Even seasoned travelers like ourselves who have become acquainted with a range of Jewish communities would not be quite prepared for what we were to find in the most unusual Jewish town of Moises Ville on the pampas of Argentina. Argentina, initially settled by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, is a huge country taking up most of the lower half of South America. For North American and European-centric Jews it might be difficult to imagine that Argentina has the sixth largest Jewish community in the world, with over 200,000 Jews. But it wasn’t the large and vibrant kehillah in Buenos Aires that piqued our interest. After driving close to 400 miles over dirt roads, with cows in every direction and open grassy, fertile plains as far as the eye could see, we finally passed the sign welcoming us intoMoisesVille, a hamlet with just over 2,000 people including about 200 Jews. Yet in the 1940s, nearly the whole town of about 5,000 was Jewish. How did an entire Jewish city come to be in these rural South American plains, and then practically disappear within the last 70 years?

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