- On Kosher Hamburgers, Yiddish Tangos, and Non-Affiliated Jews:Writing Jewish Latin America into the Americas
During his visit to the United States in 2018 while watching a Miami Heat basketball game, the president of the legendary soccer club Boca Juniors, Daniel Angelici, was impressed by the possibility of eating kosher food at the stadium. It was then that he decided to bring that novel idea to the "Bombonera" (the nickname for Boca Juniors' stadium). In August 2018, a kosher food stand was opened.1 Now, Jews and non-Jews alike will be able to enjoy a kosher version of the choripán, the quintessential and popular sausage snack.2 The inauguration of such a stand in one of Argentina's most renowned soccer temples received worldwide attention. Due to the importance and visibility of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, and its long-standing involvement in Argentina's national sport, however, this should be no surprise. Indeed, one of the recent trends in Jewish-Latin American historiography precisely highlights how national cultures in the region influenced the elaboration of Jewish identities, and, simultaneously, how Jews ethnicized the larger society.
This essay looks at some of the innovative contributions and challenges of Jewish Latin American historiography and what these studies can offer scholars focusing primarily on the Jewish experience in the United States. Current studies of Jewish history in Latin America insist on the importance of comparative studies, both within nations across different ethnic groups, and also across national borders within the Americas. The largest immigration to Latin America, which counted hundreds of thousands of Jews, took place between 1880 and 1930. [End Page 345] These were mainly Ashkenazi Jews driven away by pogroms, poverty, and discrimination. There was also a smaller number of Sephardi immigrants. Argentina, for example, counted only 6,085 Jews in its 1895 census, although the number was probably higher; by the 1930s, there were likely more than 200,000. In Brazil, the 1900 census listed 819 Jews. By the early 1930s, that number rose to around 30,000. And in Mexico, the official number of Jews increased from 134 in the early twentieth century to 9,000 in 1930.3 The richness of Jewish life in Latin America, which currently amounts to at least 500,000 Jews,4 has proved relevant to national histories, the Jewish world, and to the study of the relocation and movement of people and ideas, contributing to the reconfiguration of our understanding of Jewish geographies. While traditional historiography has tended to compare US Jewish experiences with European ones, attention to Jewish Latin America will better highlight the particular and unique in their case studies and what is in fact part of broader New World patterns as far as the social integration of Jews into their new host/home lands.
The field of Jewish Latin American studies is a relatively new one compared to US Jewish studies, and it is therefore less bound by tradition when it comes to the historiography of organized Jewish communities and their internal dynamics. The exponential growth of this field, in particular since the foundation of the Latin American Jewish Studies Association (LAJSA) in 1982, does not allow us to refer to most of the studies published on different aspects of Jewish life in this hemisphere. Since there is little continuity between the Jewish experiences during the colonial period and the communities established during the years of Jewish mass migration to the Americas from the late nineteenth century onwards, this essay focuses on the modern period, and leaves the experience of Jews during the colonial period and the Anusim (those forced to convert and their descendants) for another discussion. When possible, we have given priority to material available in English and accessible to the readers of the American Jewish History. We have also mostly focused on historiography, as the existing body of work in literature and cultural studies is vast and deserves its own essay. And since previous historiography overemphasized the supposed importance of antisemitism in the region, this text will refer mostly to studies about [End Page 346] Jewish integration in and contribution to the many societies...