Page 58 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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The earliest, most significant book which deals with the p res­
ence o f the Jew in Latin America is
Los gauchosjudios
(1910) by the
Argentinian writer, Alberto Gerchunoff. But this is due to the
immigration pa tterns o f the 1880s ra th e r than to incipient cond i­
tions in the coming o f the first Jews to Latin America, fo r the
history o f the Jewish presence in Latin America begins with
Columbus. O f the ninety souls who sailed with him on his first
voyage, six were Jews, known as Marranos o r Conversos. Two o f
these achieved rare distinction: Rodrigo de T riana (also known as
Rodrigo Bermejo) was the first to sight the coastline o f the New
World from the masthead. T he second, Luis de To rres , whom
Columbus refers to in his diary as “one who had been Jewish and
who knew Hebrew and Arabic,” was the first man to step ashore
on the soil o f the New World. Six Jews — not Conversos — bu t
practising and professing Jews, also accompanied Columbus on
his second voyage.
After this, however, the movement o f Jews to South America
received its greatest impetus at the same time tha t Jews from
eastern Europe came to the United States, between 1880 and
1890. Many o f these Jews who came at the end o f the n ine teen th
century to North or South America, had a common background
in eastern Europe. But an appreciable num be r o f these who went
to South America could trace the ir roots fu r th e r back th rough
Turkey to Spain, and brough t with them Sephardic influences.
G e rchuno ff s novel,
Los gauchosjud ios,
is a lyrical expression o f the
merging of Ashkenazic and Sephardic elements, a merg ing which
would come more naturally on Latin American ra the r than North
American soil.
Many o f these n ine teen th century Jewish imm igrants who a r ­
rived in A rgen tin a came on the wave o f soc ialist-ag rarian
idealism, founded and supported by Baron de Hirsch, to establish
Kibbutz-like settlements on the pampas o f Argentina.
Alberto G erchuno ff (1884-1950), the earliest and one o f the
most renowned o f A rgen tina’sJewish writers, was an o ffsp ring o f
this movement to establish agrarian communes in A rgen tina for
eastern European Jews. His family helped establish a colony in
Argentina, known as Entre Rios, and G erchuno ff was raised in