- Sephardi, Jewish, Argentine: Community and National Identity, 1880–1960 by Adriana M. Brodsky, and: Argentine Jews in the Age of Revolt: Between the New World and the Third World by Beatrice D. Gurwitz
A review essay on multiple books is not an easy task. Luckily for me, these two works cover the same overall subject matter, Argentine Jewry, albeit with vastly different perspectives. At first glance, these momentous books seem quite similar. Both are written by knowledgeable scholars, both deal with the Argentine Jewish community, and both mention the communal central institutions of the DAIA (Delegation of Argentine Jewish Organizations—the umbrella organization of Argentina's Jewish community), the AMIA (Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Association) and the OSA (Argentine Zionist Organization). Both books discuss Zionism, Jewish ethnicity, activism, the Argentine nation and Jewishness. However, there are also important differences worthy of discussion.
Without a doubt, the Jewish experience in Argentina is tied to the social and cultural development of the country. In Adriana M. Brodsky's book Sephardi, Jewish, Argentine: Community and National Identity, 1880–1960, a complex picture emerges of both cohesiveness and disjuncture as Sephardi Jews constructed their public Jewishness and evolved from being at the margins of society to leaders of the entire Jewish community. Brodsky recounts the settlement and acculturation periods when Sephardi Jews created organizations, founded synagogues, and built cemeteries. She elaborates on the interrelated processes that shaped the Sephardi identity in Argentina, both in Buenos Aires and the interior provinces, through shared experiences with other Argentines. These processes were often contested and debated from within the various Sephardi groups as well as from the outside. Brodsky highlights this transformation from non-entities to leaders as part of a much larger process of not only integrating into the Ashkenazi community but also of developing a sense of national belonging. She argues that the construction of a unified Sephardi identity was a choice and part and parcel of creating a hybrid identity as both Jewish and Argentine. Brodsky also discusses the cultural differences between Ashkenazim and Sephardim and how they related to each other. [End Page 155]
Brodsky's book is part of the Sephardi and Mizrahi Studies series published by Indiana University Press and is based on close readings of institutional documents, community publications, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, archives, and interviews. Her book is thematic and is divided into six chapters. Parts of several chapters appeared previously in other publications, both in Spanish and English.
In Chapter 1, "Burying the Dead: Cemeteries, Walls, and Jewish Identity in Early Twentieth-Century Argentina," Brodsky highlights how cemeteries serve as troves of information about community formation, debates on organization and demarcation of group boundaries. Chapter Two, "Helping the Living: Philanthropy and the Boundaries of Sephardi Communities in Argentina," discusses the geographic settlement patterns of different Sephardi groups in Buenos Aires and the provinces and the establishment of new ties or lack thereof. It also elaborates upon the role of philanthropy, the creation of the different religious and communal organizations. Chapter Three, "The Limits of Community: Unsuccessful Attempts at Creating Single Sephardi Organizations," focuses on the unsuccessful institutional attempts to create a comprehensive Sephardi identity based on cultural and religious practices and not necessarily on religious observance. The picture changed with the creation of the state of Israel, since Zionism did not clash with either Sephardi or Ashkenazi identities or desires for national belonging. Continuing in this vein, Chapter Four, "Working for the Homeland: Zionism and the Creation of an 'Argentine' Sephardi Community after 1920," emphasizes the role Zionism played in shaping a single group sub-ethnic identity as Sephardim in relation to the Ashkenazi majority, and to the nation as they became Jewish Argentines who were also Sephardi. Chapter Five, "Becoming Argentine, Becoming Jewish, Becoming and Remaining Sephardi: Jewish Women and Identity in Twentieth-Century Argentina," discusses the important roles played by Sephardi...