Jews and Jewish Identity in Latin America

Historical, Cultural, and Literary Perspectives

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Editor(s): 
Margalit Bejarano, Yaron Harel, Marta Topel, Margalit Yosifon
Jewish Latin American Studies
  • Nashville, TN: 
    Academic Studies Press
    , October
     2017.
     550 pages.
     $129.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781618116482.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The collection of essays in Jews and Jewish Identities in Latin America: Historical, Cultural, and Literary Perspectives covers an array of topics pertinent to understanding the nuanced and varied subject of Latin American Jewish identity. The contributions range from macro theoretical issues such as transnationalism and Zionism to micro topics specific to national communities including Jewish education and the integration of sub-ethnic groups within nations. The volume is divided into four sections, grouping the factions that underlie the study of Latin American Jews and Jewish identities into larger overarching themes.

Part 1 applies transnationalism and globalization as unifying lenses for understanding the development of contemporary Jewish identity. This section is the strongest: the authors make concerted efforts to tie their research into the greater question of Latin American Jews and Jewish identity. The first chapter, by Judit Bokser Liwerant, synthesizes the social, political, and religious trends present within Latin American Jewish communities today. Bokser Liwerant expends considerable space discussing the transnational aspect of Latin American Jewish communities, and illustrates, though the case of Latin American Jewish immigrants in the United States, the value of understanding the cross-processes of transnational movement in identity and community-building for Jews within and beyond Latin America. Margalit Bejarano offers important insight into the changing Miami metropolis in general and the Miami Jewish population in particular, drawing our attention to the growth in foreign-born residents and illustrating how their presence has altered Miami and its social structure. Read alongside Bokser Liwerant’s essay, Bejarano’s chapter presents a compelling case for the rise of transnational Latin American Jewish identity. Of particular interest in this section is Silvia Schenkolewski-Kroll’s analysis of the role of the Sociedad Hebraica Argentina—“an association whose aim was to nourish Jewish culture and encourage the relationship between the Jewish public and Argentina cultures [and] the oldest communal center in Argentina” (77)—in the development of an Argentine Jewish identity. Through careful consideration of global and national historical timelines, Schenkolewski-Kroll shows how political and economic forces, as well as ideological schemas such as Zionism, have shaped Argentine Jewish identity.  

Part 2—“Emergence of New Jewish Identities”—presents a wide selection of topics, including the Judaization of public space, racial identity in Brazil, and Moroccan and Syrian Jewish identity formation in Argentina. Marta Topel’s account of the sanctifying of public areas in São Paulo by Chabad rabbis is an important piece that broadens the definition of sacred Jewish space. Through this work, Topel illustrates the rising importance of the diaspora in defining Jewish religious identity, and the rise of Jewish homes outside the state of Israel.   

The essays in part 3, “Zionism–Multiple Dimensions: History, Diplomacy, Politics, and Education,”explore the emergence and resilience of Zionist ideology in Argentina and Brazil. Part 4 engages with contemporary Jewish Latin American literature. 

Jews and Jewish Identities in Latin America presents an important and impressive collection of essays. Each article—from the analysis of contemporary literature on Jews and Jewish identity in Latin America to the various papers on the Argentine Jewish institutional infrastructure—is meritorious in its own right. Yet the collection suffers from the same fate that many conference compendiums do, namely that the papers are gathered under one overarching topic, but lack a thread that connects them. The richness of this book lies in the variety of subjects and the depth with which each author delves into their specific area. Yet the reader is left wanting an overview of how these different issues interact within the larger umbrella of Latin American Jewish identities. In addition, almost all of the essays in this volume are primarily about Jews in Argentina and Brazil. While these countries have the largest number of Jews within Latin America, Latin American communities exist across the world and have divergent interactions with their host countries that result in different identity trajectories. As such, this book could be more aptly named “Jews and Jewish Identities in the Southern Cone.” These two criticisms not withstanding, I found this book to be an important addition to the existing literature on Latin American Jewry. It contributes to our understanding of Jews and Jewish identities outside of those more frequently studied in academic circles.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Laura Limonic is Assistant Professor of Sociology at SUNY College at Old Westbury.

Date of Review: 
August 7, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Margalit Bejarano is Researcher at the Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry and Emeritus Lecturer in the Department of Romance and Latin American Studies, Hebrew University. She has published extensively on Cuban Jewry, Sephardim in Latin America, Cuban and Latino Jews in Miami, and oral history.

Yaron Harel is Professor at the Department of Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University. He is the vice-chairman of the Israeli Historical Society, and incumbent of the Yekutiel and Hannah Klein Chair in the History of the Modern Rabbinate in Europe, Bar-Ilan University. His research deals with political, social, and cultural history of the Jews in the Middle East in modern times. He is the author of twelve books and several articles. 

Marta Francisca Topel is Anthropologist, Researcher, and Lecturer in the Program of Jewish and Arabic Studies at the University of São Paulo. She has written extensively about Jewish Orthodoxy both in Israel and in the Diaspora. She has also published several articles about Israeli society. 

Margalit Yosifon is Senior Lecturer and Researcher in the Department of Education at Ashkelon Academic College. She has published extensively on sociology of education, teaching methods, and diversity and evaluation in education.

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