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Taking Root

Narratives of Jewish Women in Latin America

Marjorie Agosin

Publication Year: 2002

“A very significant addition to the fields of Judaic Studies and Women’s Studies . . . this book makes a unique contribution to literary scholars interested in the Jewish presence in Latin America and in the literature of displacement in general.� —Isabel Alvarez Borland, College of the Holy Cross In Taking Root, Latin American women of Jewish descent, from Mexico to Uruguay, recall their coming of age with Sabbath candles and Hebrew prayers, Ladino songs and merengue music, Queen Esther and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Rich and poor, Sephardi and Ash-kenazi, Jewish immigrant families searched for a new home and identity in predominantly Catholic societies. The essays included here examine the religious, economic, social, and political choices these families have made and continue to make as they forge Jewish identities in the New World. Marjorie Agosin has gathered narratives and testimonies that reveal the immense diversity of Latin American Jewish experience. These essays, based on first- and second-generation immigrant experience, describe differing points of view and levels of involvement in Jewish tradition. In Taking Root, Agosin presents us with a contemporary and vivid account of the Jewish experience in Latin America. Taking Root documents the sadness of exile and loss but also a fierce determination to maintain Jewish traditions. This is Jewish history but it is also part of the untold history of Brazil, Argentina, El Salvador, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, and all of Latin America. Marjorie Agosin is a professor of Spanish at Wellesley College. She is the author of A Map of Hope and The Alphabet of My Hands. She is a member of the Spanish Academy of Letters and winner of the Gabriela Mistral Medal of Honor, 2001.

Published by: Ohio University Press


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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix

Among the joys of editing Taking Root, I am grateful for the commitment and authenticity of each of the writers included, as well as for their belief in and passion for sharing their stories as Jewish women in the Americas. Each of the authors included so graciously agreed to write an essay specially for this collection, ...

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pp. xi-xxix

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of stories and of women who told them, always gathered at teatime. They seemed to form a magic circle where words invoked other lives and other times. Foreignness, the strangeness of having come from another place and being in a new place, seemed to pervade the conversations ...

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Chapter 1 Latin American Jewishness: A Game with Shifting Identities

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pp. 1-11

One of my favorite poems by Borges is called “A Israel” (To Israel). In it, the blind sage explores his possible Jewish ancestry, and asks if Israel might be flowing in the lost labyrinths of his blood, wandering like a majestic and ancient river. Well, it doesn’t really matter, Borges responds in the end. Whether or not Israel’s in his veins, ...

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Chapter 2 A Sephardi Air

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pp. 12-15

I grew up within my mother’s Ashkenazi family, hearing Yiddish, eating gefilte fish, and adoring passionately my Russian-born grandfather, who had pale green eyes and spoke so softly you could barely hear him. And yet, always, I was reminded by my mother’s family that I resembled my father’s Sephardi family. ...

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Chapter 3 What! No Yiddish? Growing up Sephardi in Peru

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pp. 16-28

So far, it is clear that I belong in these pages by virtue of my Sephardi Jewish upbringing in Peru. Recently I heard that the Sephardi congregants in Lima were going to move from their first and only synagogue site, built in the nineteen thirties, around the time I was born, to quarters in the synagogue and community house ...

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Chapter 4 My Past Is Present: The Complex Identity of a German-Jewish-Venezuelan-American

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pp. 29-44

My name is Verónica Zander Udewald Darer. I am a Venezuelan Jew, a German Jew, and an American Jew. I am a citizen of many worlds, a patriot of none. Zander, my father’s name, Udewald, my mother’s name, and Darer, my married name, are all Jewish, even if they are from diverse national origins. My names, reflections ...

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Chapter 5 El Azar-Fate Put the Novel Cl

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pp. 45-57

El Azar-Fate put the novel Cláper in my hands. In this lyrical memoir, the Venezuelan-born Jewish Polish writer Alicia Freilich Segal not only “spoke to me,” she actually “spoke about me.” As I translated the novel into English, the words resonated in my soul. Through them, I began to reconcile with my own ghosts and reconnect ...

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Chapter 6 Memories of Comings and Goings

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pp. 58-95

As a sociologist, I am accustomed to interviewing others, to collecting their life stories. This time I am interpreting the role of the other, the interviewer who has vanished inside the interviewee. An experience that is curious, happy, and anguishing all at the same time. ...

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Chapter 7 My Cuban Story

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pp. 96-109

And so it goes. . . . I have spent my entire second life trying to explain my identity to myself and to others. In my “first life,” I knew who I was and so did everybody else. Yes, I did indicate I am in another life. I am neither schizophrenic nor did I die on an operating table and get resuscitated. I did have a “first life,” but it died ...

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Chapter 8 Crossing Creative and Cultural Barriers

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pp. 110-127

In the United States, people tend to label ethnic groups. When I filled out my application for admission to UCLA, there was a blank that called for “Ethnic origin.” What am I? I wondered. I tried to pick one by excluding the others. The options included Caucasian, African American, Hindu, Asian, Latino, and Other. ...

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Chapter 9 Growing up Jewish in Columbia

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pp. 128-133

My parents were Jewish, born in Siedlce, Poland. In 1923, my father was drafted into the Polish army. He swore that if he managed to survive the torment inflicted upon him by his fellow soldiers, he would leave the country. At that time, immigration to the United States was closed and, without the immediacy of the Nazi threat, ...

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Chapter 10 Found in Translation: On Becoming a Cuban Jewish Writer

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pp. 134-147

I used to think that I became a psychologist because I didn’t have the courage to become a writer, my truest vocation. I chose psychology early in college, embracing an arduous career requiring long years of preparation, because I thought it would permit me to have it all: the life of a scholar, a reader and writer; the life of a creative artist; ...

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Chapter 11 Mosaics: The Story of Her Life

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pp. 148-161

Our lives continued smoothly in Salvador for many years. I taught German, Ernesto enjoyed work, we spent time with friends and family. In the meantime, Ruth married an American and they moved with our twin grandsons to Texas. A year later, our first granddaughter was born. We visited them often and enjoyed their visits ...

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Chapter 12 Shared Memories

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pp. 162-171

What does it mean to be a Jewish woman in Latin America? It’s not an easy question to answer since it means folding back into myself, contemplating the events of the past and resurrecting them in order to offer a partial history and geography of my origins. If they had to be lined up, I’d say that Cuban, Jewish, and Mexican ...

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Chapter 13 Judaism: An Essential Tool

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pp. 172-182

With four Russian grandparents (one from Odessa and the others from who knows where), I was born in Buenos Aires in 1958. The story goes that my paternal grandfather, in urgent need to escape the European inferno, looked for a ship that would take him to the United States, where he could meet his brother. ...

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Chapter 14 A Passion to Remember

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pp. 183-194

My whole life is in my stories. Memory infuses all I write. Word by word, I embroider the tapestry of memory. When my stories are all told, they will be a great woven coverlet of words that my descendants can pull over themselves, wrapping themselves in layers of memories that may shelter them and may help them make sense of things. ...

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Chapter 15 Poetry in the Clouds: A Costa Rican Journey

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pp. 195-204

My parents immigrated to Costa Rica, where my mother’s family had been living since 1930, in 1932. My father left the rest of his family in Poland and never heard from them again after 1940. By the time my parents arrived in San José, my maternal grandfather had already established a small shop in the central market, ...

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Chapter 16 From Toledo to the New World: A Story of Secrets

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pp. 205-217

The key to what happened was a war. But this is not unusual. Many lives are changed by war, and destiny takes command amid chance occurrences and whims of good and bad luck. Order is overturned and the compass of history loses its magnetism and the routes of travelers become unrecognizable. ...

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Chapter 17 Uruguay: A Story in Episodes

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pp. 218-228

My father came from a family of Ashkenazi Jews steeped in the cultural tradition of Eastern Europe, and my mother from a family of Sephardi Jews who belonged to the Islamic cultural tradition. My father’s family journey began in the early nineteen twenties when my grandfather, Cusiel Porzecanski, born in Latvia, ...

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Chapter 18 Of Spices and Spells: From Morrocco to Buenos Aires

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pp. 229-238

My grandparents on both my mother’s and father’s sides left Morocco during the first decade of the twentieth century. Various branches of the family left Morocco around then to come to different parts of America. Some went to Argentina, others to Venezuela, others established themselves in Sao Paulo, Brazil. ...

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Chapter 19 Saint Anthony’s Intervention and Other Accounts of Growing up Jewish in Mexico

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pp. 239-250

Here is another miracle I believe in. A Jewish child, one of many, was rounded up and sent to Auschwitz during the war. She had only her mother’s photograph to remind her of home. Fearing the Gestapo might take it away she folded it in four, back side out, and placed it in her mouth under her tongue. ...

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Chapter 20 With All That I Am

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pp. 251-263

Back to childhood, let’s go there, where the broth of life is bubbling, getting its flavors, that’s where it starts, where it’s defined, where it takes shape. And now that we’re there, since we’re children, off we go to school. To the Argentine public school, equalizing, secular, where all the children look like white doves in their ...

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Chapter 21 A Tale of Courage and Fortitude

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pp. 264-271

My name is Ivonne Strauss de Milz. I’ve lived in the Dominican Republic all my life, in the small settlement of Sosua and in the city of Santo Domingo, but I have felt most deeply connected to the community in Sosua. Sosua is where my paternal grandparents settled when they arrived in 1947 after seven years as refugees ...

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Chapter 22 Too Many Names

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pp. 272-290

My family’s emigration route can be summed up in a few words which I remember vaguely: “Your grandmother brought Aunt Bety and me from Warsaw when we were small; your grandfather had come earlier, and, once he had set up his hat factory, he sent for us.” This brief story and a sepia-colored photo of a handsome young man ...

Contributor Biographies

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pp. 291-299

E-ISBN-13: 9780896804258
Print-ISBN-13: 9780896802261

Publication Year: 2002

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jews, Latin American -- United States -- Biography.
  • Latin America -- Emigration and immigration.
  • Jewish women -- Latin America -- Biography.
  • Immigrants -- Latin America.
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