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Jewish Heritage Tours in Argentina

Argentina is one of South America’s most fascinating countries. It’s famous for the endless green expanses of the Pampas grasslands and the wintry beauty of the southern Patagonia province.  We also love the warmth of its people – and Argentina’s outrageously good steak houses!  Argentina is less well-known for its vibrant Jewish community and Jewish history. 

Argentina isn’t really on the US tourist map, but it has a lot to offer American visitors and is a surprisingly popular destination for Jewish travel. Gil Travel’s Jewish heritage tours in Argentina are a once in a lifetime opportunity to see South American Jewish history and architecture and meet people from one of the world’s most exciting Jewish cultures!

The Jewish Traveler’s Guide to Argentina

Argentina is the second-largest country in South America and you’ll find it just to the south of Brazil. Argentina’s southern tip is the last stop before the Antarctic and can get seriously cold. Its long eastern border is mainly the Atlantic Ocean and the meandering western border is shared with Chile. 

Argentina was a relatively safe haven for Jews fleeing the turmoils and dangers of Europe (although there was a vicious pogrom in the 1920s). The country’s first Jews were refugees who fled the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century. The country became a magnet for European Jews in the 19th century. People fleeing pogroms and poverty sailed across the Atlantic to make a fresh start in the New World. Syrian Jews arrived in the 1880s and the final wave of Jewish immigrants were secular Russian Jews who escaped from the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution. 

In 2024, there are just over 180,000 Argentinian Jews – that’s the world’s sixth largest Jewish population. The Argentine Jewish community is modern and cosmopolitan. The total number of people who claim a close connection to the core Jewish community is at least 300,000 and there are more than 50,000 Argentinian Jews living in Israel. Argentinian Jews maintain close ties with Israel and birthright tours to Israel are extremely popular with Argentinian youth. 

So much for facts and figures; the Argentinian Jewish community is large, self-confident and loves to welcome guests from other countries! 

Modern Jewish Culture in Argentina

Argentinians are well-known for being football crazy (that’s soccer in the US). Jews share the collective passion for football and love all kinds of other sports. It’s common for Jewish Argentinian families to bond around local sports clubs and competitive sport is a major social activity. The Boca Juniors is Argentina’s biggest soccer team and has thousands of Jewish fans. There is an annual Hanukkah tradition of lighting a hanukkiah (menorah) in the ground at half-time. Jewish fans can also grab a kosher hot dog or burger. 

In 2023, the 15th Pan American Maccabi Games were held in Argentina. The games are a prestigious event that attract Jewish athletes from around the world. As well as promoting sporting excellence, the Games develop Jewish pride and unity. They are also a lot of fun and are a special opportunity for competitors, coaches and their families to explore foreign countries, meet new people and make lifelong friendships. Gil Travel was proud to handle all the travel and tour itineraries for the US team and their supporters. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, Argentina dominated the Games, winning a total of 144 medals, including 52 gold medals. Their sporting culture and strong commitment to training really shone through. It also helped that they were competing on their own turf. The US team managed a convincing second place with Jewish athletes from across America winning 124 medals, including 39 gold medals. The games really put Argentina’s Jewish community on the map and gave all the guests a wonderful insight into Argentina’s Jewish history and heritage. 

Jewish Heritage Tours in Argentina

Gil Travel has some excellent contacts in Argentina (and across South America), Gil Travel can arrange tailored group or family tours that take in a range of Argentina’s Jewish sites, accompanied by professional English speaking tour guides. Although most of the Jewish heritage sites and the community are in Buenos Aires, Tours to old Jewish settlements in Patagonia can be arranged. 

Many Jewish tourists love to take a break from culture and history to explore Argentina’s beautiful nature reserves and mountains, or even to take a boat trip through icy Antarctic waters.

There’s plenty of good kosher food in Buenos Aires. Gil Travel Jewish heritage tours in Argentina have some great local food contacts and can hook you up with the best kosher parrillas (BBQ) in the country. There’s some amazing Syrian Jewish food, as well as Israeli and Ashkenazi influences. If you’re a carnivore, you’ll already be salivating at the thought of some of the world’s best – and biggest – steaks. Argentine beef is superb. If you crave a burger, don’t worry, there is also a kosher McDonalds in Buenos Aires.

If you’re Shomer Shabbat, you’ll be completely at home in Buenos Aires. You’ll find a warm welcome in local synagogues and Gil can arrange a kosher hotel and a Shabes friendly travel itinerary. Argentina had its share of problems with anti-Semitism in the past, and the entire population went through some ugly experiences during the years of military dictatorship. In 2024, Argentina is a very different country. The current president Javier Milei is a strong supporter of Israel and is reportedly planning to convert to Judaism.

Recommended Jewish Sites in Argentina

Most of Argentina’s Jews live in the city of Buenos Aires. The community first settled in the old garment district Once and Abasto. In many ways it was like the close knit Jewish quarters in Europe, but with wonderful South American architecture and a unique Jewish-Argentine culture. The Russian Jews mainly settled in the Villa Crespo (quickly nicknamed the Villa Kreplaj) neighborhood. 

Generations of Jews left their mark on the Buenos Aires cityscape. Tourists love to visit three of the city’s notable synagogues.

  • Yesod Hadath

  • Grand Temple of Paso

  • Sinagoga de la Congregación Israelita (Libertad)

Some people find cemeteries morbid, or just not particularly interesting, but there are some Jewish cemeteries that we do think justify a visit. If you’re already visiting the Sinagoga de la Congregación Israelita, it’s only a short trip to the peaceful 

Recoleta Cemetery. The Liniers cemetery is also worth a visit if you’re in the area. If you’re of Argentinian Jewish heritage, Gil Travel may be able to help you find family graves or research your family history. Like many cities with a strong Jewish community, Buenos Aires has a Holocaust Museum and an Anne Frank museum. 

Does Argentina Really have Jewish Cowboys?

People ask us this question a lot, although they’re sometimes a bit hesitant, as though they’re worried about looking foolish. Firstly, they assume that cowboys belong exclusively to the American West. Secondly, they find it hard to believe that Jews could actually be cowboys. Argentina certainly has its own cowboys (called gauchos) who work the vast Pampas grasslands.

When Russian Jews moved to the region they loved the tough outdoor life and embraced farming. The concept of gauchos judíos or Jewish cowboys gradually emerged, it was half joke and half myth, but held a core of truth. Sadly, the robust Jewish farmers and outdoorsmen of the Santa Fe area are largely gone. They either emigrated to Israel or drifted away to the big city. 

Visit Argentina in 2024

If you have a family connection to Argentina’s Jewish community, or you’re interested in the country’s Jewish culture (or just want to eat some of the world’s biggest steaks) 2024 is a great year to visit Argentina. The exchange rate is favorable and US dollars have pretty good purchasing power. Prices vary, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect to pay a third of what you’d pay at home when you buy a meal or a beer in Argentina.

It’s worth remembering that Argentina is in the Southern hemisphere, so a winter break will usually bring some pleasant temperatures and sunny days. Overall, the people are friendly, the infrastructure is modern and there’s plenty to see. Argentina is generally a safe country with low crime rates and you can walk around freely in most places. Your Gil Travel guide will update you with local knowledge and ensure that you have a safe and memorable trip!

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