At the end of the 19th century, thousands of Russian Jews set sail for Argentina as part of a mass exodus that promised an escape route from the anti-semitic violence occurring in Eastern Europe. They carried with them trunks filled with ornate gowns, pressed suits, fine art and literature, and these newly christened immigrants who once worked as accountants, lawyers, and doctors, were clearly ill-prepared for what awaited them at the end of their journey. Met with the vast and unrestrained land of the Argentina, they couldn't have seen a starker contrast to their homeland. But it was here, with a back-breaking struggle, that these gentlemen learned to tame the wild and eventually become cowboys, or "gauchos", of the Argentine Pampas. With a strong sense of Jewish tradition, deeply impressed by the grit of the gaucho, these immigrants would build a rich community and raise four generations of children over a century -- before it all would come to an end.
This story elucidates the immigration and settlement of these fleeing Jews in the Entre Rios province, and how their survival on this expansive, unknown territory was the result of relationships they built with the indigenous gauchos. Not only did these gauchos teach this new flock how to break the land, but their culture quickly became a cornerstone of Jewish life in the Pampas. However, they have not gone on without conflict, and today only a handful of Jews and Jewish gauchos remain. While at first glance the cause simply appears to be the exit of younger generations in search of excitement in the city, the root of the problem goes much deeper. Since Juan Peron's presidency in the 40s, decades of anti-semitism, unfair land regulation and taxes, and poor infrastructural and institutional investment have wreaked havoc, causing these communities to crumble today. Much like their ancestors, younger generations have been left with no choice but to flee to survive, and in their wake only a few hundred elderly Jews remain, obscured by the empty shells of synagogues and broken traditions before them. If you ask anyone in the area, they will all tell you that the colonies will disappear within our lifetime -- what is happening here is the end of Jewish life in Entre Rios, and this point in history is worth recording.