- Made of Shores: Judeo-Argentinean Fiction Revisited by Amalia Ran
In Made of Shores, Amalia Ran revisits and revises the rich Judeo-Argentine literary tradition. For the author the examined novels both provide a window into the Jewish experience in Argentina and, at the same time, constitute it.
As Ran explains, fostered by Baron Maurice Hirsch’s colonization projects that helped Jewish families from Eastern Europe migrate to North America, Brazil, and Argentina, the first immigrants arrived at the Southern Cone nation in 1889 and populated Moisesville, an agricultural colony in the Argentine Pampas. The number of new arrivals (and colonies) soon grew significantly, to the extent that Jewish emigration to Argentina became, according to the author, “one of the main events in modern Jewish history.” The immigration policies of the Argentine government and the economic opportunities and upward social mobility that the new country offered created a sense of arrival to the promised land. This experience was recreated by Alberto Gerchunoff in his classic, Los Gauchos Judíos (1910), a foundational work of the Judeo-Latin American literature that articulated an optimistic vision of the Jewish experience and affirmed the process of integration in the new nation (the book was published, not coincidentally, in the year when Argentina celebrated its centennial).
However, throughout the twentieth century, the Jewish community would experience events and processes that called into question the idea of having arrived to the promised land. As Ran notes, this included the repression [End Page 154] of workers and the antisemitic violence of the Tragic Week (1919), the spread of right-wing ideologies and antisemitism in the 1930s and 1940s, the suspicions of “double loyalty” that followed the creation of the state of Israel, the terrorists attacks of the 1990s, and the economic debacle that threatened the Argentine middle class.
Against this backdrop a new wave of Judeo-Argentine literature developed, one in which the Jewish-Argentine experience of the twentieth century was revised and the questions of integration, exile, identity, and history became relevant. Thus, Amalia Ran considers Mario Szichman’s A las 20:25 la Señora entró en la inmortalidad (1981), Sergio Chejfećs Lenta biografía (1990), Gabriela Avigur-Roten’s Mozart lo haya yehudi (1992), Alicia Dujovne Ortiz’s El árbol de la gitana (1997), Ricardo Feierstein’s La logia del umbral (2001), and Andrés Neuman’s Una vez Argentina (2003).
This selection in itself reveals the fractures that shaped the Judeo-Argentine experience in the period under study: some of the novels were neither written nor first published in Argentina and all reflect different degrees of emotional and territorial separation (nostalgic or not) from the authors’ nation of birth. In this respect the inclusion of Mozart lo haya yehudi, which has never been considered part of this corpus before, is telling: Avigur-Roten was born in Argentina, educated in Israel, and the novel was written in Hebrew (with similar considerations Jorge Luis Borges included William H. Hudson’s English-language novels in an anthology of Argentine literature). In a related vein, in Una vez Argentina Neuman “aims to eliminate nationality as a necessary collective affiliation” and considers his family and Jewish past as “being made of shores”; he also told Ran that he does not believe in “essences or creating roots.”
The reflection on the limitations and fiction of the melting-pot model also hovers over these novels and is particularly intense in Feirstein’s. Several episodes in La logia del umbral parallel and (resorting to irony) challenge the naïve vision of integration proposed by Los gauchos judíos. Contrary to Gerchunoff’s optimism, in La logia the Schvel family is “in the threshold,” “half marginalized, half accepted.” And when Mariano Moisés attempts to realize the ideal of the melting pot, his march on Buenos Aires is stopped by the brutal terrorist attack against the AMIA in 1994.
The author also points to the uneven (sometimes only tacit) presence of the biblical Promised Land in the imaginary proposed by the novels. In Chejfec’s and Neiman’s...