A Jew(ish) introduction to Mendoza

Last Sunday I spent the morning in church on Easter Island… so it made sense to address the balance and spend some quality Jewish time this weekend!

Walking in Mendoza on Friday afternoon I came across a Kosher supermarket, so went in. Next thing you know, the owner jumped on me and started chatting excitedly in Hebrew. I used my one Hebrew phrase (Ani me deberet katsat Ivrit – I don’t speak much Hebrew) and that was it! It confirmed I was Jewish, and 30 seconds later I was being handed her mobile and was chatting to the Rabbi!

The rabbi was inviting me for Shabbat (the Friday Sabbath) that evening, however I already had plans with Sofia so I politely declined. But next was an invitation to an ‘asado’ (Argentinian BBQ) on Sunday with some ‘youth’. I was glad to hear that I was still considered youth, and so agreed to join them, espeically as Sofia was leaving me that morning!

Fast forward to Sunday and I made my way over to the Rabbi’s house. I wasn’t sure how religious they were, so didn’t know whether to wear a dress instead of trousers, or how much I should be covered up. In the end, my small travelling wardrobe made the decision for me and I opted for jeans with a smart (ish) shirt.

I got to the Rabbi’s house and was warmly received by him – with the sound of his multiple children shouting & playing in the background. Within the next 30 minutes more and more people arrived and next thing we were all split into 4-5 cars and were making our way to the asado. It was taking place in someone’s weekend cabin in Potrerillos – a 45 minute journey from Mendoza.

Once there, we were around 20 ‘youth’ and they stuck the meat on the grill. An asado is different to a BBQ in that it is cooked over a grill on an open fire rather than coal. There was a LOT of meat! And it was also interesting to see all the cuts available – in England, I’m used to seeing fairly standard cuts of meat – particularly kosher meat, but here they had everything! I wasn’t sure what any of it was (except for knowing it was kosher and from a cow!) but it was all delicious.

I chatted to a few people whilst out there; Argentinian Spanish has a very different sound to the rest of South America. It sounds nicer (an Italian lilt to it) but much harder to understand! A one-on-one conversation worked fine, but when it was a group and everyone chatting on top of each other I got completely lost!

Most of the group were in their mid 20’s, and all thought I was a similar age – so I didn’t feel the need to correct them 🙂 Most were still studying or had just started working. It was nice to be part of a group of people and just enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon together

The most interesting aspect for me was the Rabbi. He had come over from Buenos Aires 6 years ago, and had been asked to ‘make a go of it’ in Mendoza. The city only has 4000 Jewish people, and actually many people don’t (or didn’t) even know they’re Jewish. In Jewish law, if your mother is Jewish they you are considered Jewish. Over 80% of Mendoza Jews have only one Jewish parent (their mother) and so most Jews marry out as there are so few people. However the Rabbi is trying to teach them about their heritage, history and get some traditions into their daily habits.

At the asado he briefly told the group about Channukah and the story behind it. Slowly but surely he is getting them to feel like part of a community – and it was really nice to see. One boy I met who was only 18 (Franco) had met the Rabbi 3 years ago and was really interested to learn about his history. He had chosen to have a Brit Milah (circumcision) 2 years ago and follow Judaism more seriously, so he is learning Hebrew and going to synagogue most weeks. His grandfather has written a story about his time during the Holocaust which he is going to send me too which will be interesting to read. It was also nice to see that every single one of them wore some form of Jewish symbol on their jewellery. For the guys it was a chain with a Magen David (star of David) and the girls either had necklaces, earrings or rings. It was heartwarming to see that they all felt strongly that Judaism was a part of their identity and they wore it on them with pride…. Something that I’m sure is largely down to the Rabbi’s work in the town.

I really enjoyed my afternoon and seeing how ‘real’ life is like in Mendoza for this small Jewish community.

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