Buenos Aires’s Jewish history is plentiful. From Byzantine temples to tango orchestras, there’s much to do for both the community and visitors alike. Entry into some of the Jewish sites can be a little tricky at times due to the attacks on the Jewish community in the 1990s but it is not impossible. Eating kosher is a definite option with a range of steak and sushi bars throughout the city.
After the expulsion from Spain in the 15th century conversos (or secret Jews) began settling in Argentina. Over the years Jews have come from Eastern Europe, mainly Poland and Russia.
Today, the Jewish community in Argentina focuses mainly in the Once district (eleventh in Spanish).This is also probably the best place to start your Jewish trail – at the heart of the eleventh district - at the Gran Templo Paso. Located on Paso Street it was completed in the 20th century and is one of the oldest synagogues in Argentina. The temple has been declared a heritage site by the city of Buenos Aires and they have a diverse range of cultural activities for the community, even laying claim to their own tango orchestra.
Just off Paso Street is one of the district’s best-known streets, Lavalle. As a tourist hotspot it comes with tourist prices so here is possibly not the best place to bargain. However, Lavalle Street is a vibrant area with street entertainers, synagogues and many kosher shops.
If you take a walk down Lavalle Street after about twenty minutes you’ll come to Libertad Street on your left. Turning here you’ll see the rather grand Templo Libertad. This Byzantine-style temple is the oldest synagogue in Buenos Aires and just next door there is the Jewish museum. The museum is a small place with pieces donated by Dr. Salvador Kibrick that exhibit the history of Jewish agricultural colonies in rural Argentina. The museum is generally open to the public as long as you have passport identification.
The Once neighborhood is also home to the famous Abasto area, known worldwide because of Carols Gardel - the originator of the tango movement, who was born and raised there. George Soros, a Jewish Hungarian businessman, acquired the historic Abasto building on Av. Corrientes 3247 and opened a shopping mall in the late 1990s. As well as store outlets, it has a 12-screen cinema, a miniature theme park and the only kosher McDonald’s outside of Israel. To get there you can either walk down Av Corrientes or take the metro to the Carlos Gardel underground station, either way you’ll find it hard to miss the massive tower over Once.
Although it’s possible to get a kosher lunch inside the shopping mall there are a couple of other different options in the area such as the kosher steak house ASIAN or DashiSuhi bar. ASIAN serves a range of steaks and desserts with prices ranging from 100-250 pesos. You can find it on Av Cordoba 5288 and the best way to get there is to go via Lavalle and Gallo Street. Dashi is a chain of local sushi restaurants placed all over the city and there is one kosher branch at Salguero 2643 in Palermo Soho. If you go you will see an “AK” symbol on the window.
For the afternoon, the Once district has a few important sites left to see that delve into the somewhat troubled past of Buenos Aires.
The AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina), which was the scene of a terror attack that claimed the lives of 85 people in 1994, is a hub of Jewish life in the city. This was the worst terror attack in Argentina’s history and there’s a commemorative monument by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam close by on Tucman and Viamonte. Today, it’s the center of Jewish life in the city. For a taste of community life you can attend one of their many cultural activities such as theater, concerts, ballet, recitals and film events. They have a changing schedule available on their website and guests are welcome but only with prior notice. The AMIA is located on Pasteur 633, which is just off the main street Av Cordoba.
Nearby is the former Israeli Embassy, which was also the scene of a brutal terrorist attack in 1992 where thirty-two people were killed. Walking around the site offers a peaceful place to contemplate, with trees and benches placed to commemorate those who lost their lives. This attack actually marked the first case of Middle Eastern terrorism in South America. The site is near the Retiro train station, on the corner of Arroyo and Suipacha.
Lastly and not really your ordinary tourist attraction is the former home of Adolf Eichmann, the infamous Nazi behind the "final solution.” If you wish to visit, there are remnants of Eichmann’s house located at 4261 Garibaldi Street (14 Garibaldi when he was captured in 1960) but there is no marker or commemorative plaque. The Capture of Eichmann was also the subject of the book ‘The House on Garibaldi Street’. It lays bare the details of his kidnapping by the Mossad under the leadership of Isser Harel. To get there you’ll need to go to the San Fernando district of Buenos Aires.
To end your day you have the option of the popular kosher restaurant Al Galope on Tucman 2637 or kosher Go Sushi on Av Pueyrredón 2501 for dinner. Argentinean meat is some of the most renowned in the world and Al Galope provide a selection of steaks and a variety of Middle Eastern dishes. Go Sushi has a charming outdoor spot to enjoy the evening and courses range from 100 pesos. If over dinner you fancy brushing up on your Yiddish then you’re in luck because Buenos Aires has one of the world’s four remaining Yiddish daily newspapers (others are found in Paris, Tel Aviv and Birobidjan, Siberia). To get a copy ask at the AMIA who should have an up-to-date list of which outlets the paper is currently available from.
The Jewish Virtual Library contributed to this report.