Jewish Buenos Aires

Before arriving in Argentina I made a mental note about visiting a McDonald’s in Buenos Aires.  Did I think that since it’s Argentina they’d have better quality of beef in their Big Macs?  Well, not exactly.  There are two kosher McDonald’s in the world; as you could probably have guessed, one is in Israel.  And the other one?  Yes that’s right, it’s in Buenos Aires.

I thought it was an odd place to have a kosher McDonald’s (why not in New York, for example) but before coming here I didn’t know much about the Jewish population in South America and in Argentina.  I also had no idea about two horrible terrorists attacks against the Jewish community in Buenos Aires.  I first learned about it during a tour I did on my second day here that took the group through the former site of the Israeli embassy where a suicide bomber destroyed the building and killed 29 people in 1992.  In memory of those perished there are trees planted in the plaza where the embassy used to be.

Two years later in 1994, a car bomb exploded in front of the Jewish community center AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) in Once, the heart of the historical Jewish district in Buenos Aires.  This incident left 85 people dead, and was the largest terrorist attack on Jews since World War II and the deadliest bombing ever in Argentine history.  A new structure stands there now, but it’s set apart from the street and in front there is a wall covered with the names of the victims.  My friends from Brazil and the States had a private tour of AMIA which remains a vital focal point for the Jewish community, offering programs for children as well as cultural events.

They told me about a monument in the inner courtyard of AMIA created by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, which is a Star of David that changes patterns as visitors move around it.  I met my friends in front of AMIA a few weeks ago and noticed the strict security measures they’ve taken (I think you need prior appointments to visit), and Ron pointed out for me all the little plaques at the bottom of the trees that line the street.  He told me how many of those killed and injured were children, and there are reminders of those victims all around the neighborhood.  These terrorists attacks remain unsolved and no suspect has ever been convicted even though certain groups have claimed responsibility.

The investigations that followed the two bombings have been marred with accusations of cover-ups and incompetence, causing further heartache and frustration to many.  The process has been so terribly slow and unjust, even the formal President Néstor Kirchner called it a “national disgrace.”  It moved at least one graffiti artist to express his feelings in his work.  Below is a mural I saw during a graffiti tour of Palermo that our guide told us was about the terrorist attacks against the Jews and the justice system.

It is estimated that there are close to 250 thousand Jews in Argentina, about 85% of them live in Buenos Aires (down from ~310 thousand in 1960s).  I’ve read that during the Argentine economic crisis a decade ago many Jews left the country for Israel, but the community here is still the largest in Latin America (my Brazilian friends told me there area about 120 thousand Jews in their country) and the third largest in the Americas after the United States and Canada.

So, kosher McDonald’s in Buenos Aires!  As I mentioned, it’s the only kosher McDonald’s in the world outside of Israel and it’s in a beautiful art deco building called Abasto, a shopping mall that used to be a large produce/fruit market.  There are three McDonald’s in this shopping center (you can never have too many McDonald’s I guess).  The kosher one is in the food court upstairs across from the regular McDonald’s.  Everything looked the same (burgers, fries, etc) except that there is no dairy served at the kosher one and we spotted a woman sitting in the back inspecting lettuce.  She sat in front of a desk that was lit from below and was literally looking at every piece of lettuce for bugs…

I’ve had friends who kept kosher but I never knew what kosher meant until I saw this sign at McDonald’s.  Kosher (or casher in Spanish) means “fit,” “appropriate,” apto.

My wanting to visit this kosher McDonald’s gave me a history lesson as well as some fries and my first bite of Bic Mac since 7th grade.  If you’re in Buenos Aires, I say go check out this kosher McDonald’s but as we found out first hand, on Fridays they will close by sundown for shabbat.  Actually they were closed by 15:30 the day we were there…

Lastly, I read this today and it made me want to cry a little; I thought I’d share:

A 2011 poll conducted by the Gino Germani Research Institute of the University of Buenos Aires on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League and Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas showed that a majority of Argentines held anti-semitic sentiments or prejudices. Of the 1,510 Argentines quizzed, 82% agreed that Jews are preoccupied with making money, 49% said that they “talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust”, 68% said that they have “too much power in the business world”, and 22% said that the Jews killed Jesus. The majority of people interviewed also expressed belief that Jews are more loyal to Israel than their country of birth.

 

AMIA: Pasteur 633 (between Tucumán and Viamonte), Once, Buenos Aires

Abasto Shopping Mall: Av. Corrientes 3247 (@ Agüero), Abasto, Buenos Aires

 

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One Response to Jewish Buenos Aires

  1. Franco says:

    I don’t understand anti-semitism or any prejudice against a religious or ethnic group to be honest. Interesting post, I learned something new today.

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