Debate over who’s a “real Jew” roils Argentine Jewish community
Posted by: Hilary Burke
The newly elected president of Argentina’s biggest Jewish community center sparked a firestorm when he was quoted in the press as saying he wanted the group to represent “genuine Jews” who live strictly by the Torah.
Guillermo Borger is the first Orthodox Jew elected to head the AMIA (Argentine Israeli Mutual Association) center in Buenos Aires, which was founded 114 years ago. Argentina’s Jewish community is the largest in Latin America with nearly 200,000 members.
Borger was quoted last weekend by Argentina’s biggest daily newspaper Clarin as saying he planned to “reinforce AMIA’s role in representing genuine Jews.” When asked what made a Jew genuine, he said: “It’s having a life based on all the Torah’s teachings.”
Conservative and secular Jews pounced on the statement, slamming Borger’s comments as narrow and discriminatory. The outgoing president of AMIA, Luis Grynwald, said he included himself among the Jews “who are not ‘genuine,’ and don’t have a life based on what the Torah dictates,” according to the Argentina-based Agencia Judía de Noticias (Jewish News Agency).
“Being Jewish is teaching my children and grandchildren the importance of inclusion, belonging, respect and honesty … each person expresses Judaism in his own way, I do so with pride and great honor,” Grynwald said.
Argentine writer Marcos Aguinis called Borger’s remarks “a medieval step backward,” warning that AMIA could lose members if the group’s pluralistic tradition were scrapped.
Borger came out later in the week, saying he had never said anything to distinguish between genuine and “non-genuine” Jews and adding that he aimed to reinforce AMIA’s role as “the representative of all Jews, without any exclusions.”
“We want an AMIA for everyone that is open and pro-dialogue,” he said in a statement.
Not everyone was put at ease, however, and some AMIA members led a protest against Borger’s comments on Thursday. “Now they say you’re not a Jew unless you’re Orthodox, fundamentalist and religious … that excludes 98.5 percent of the Jewish community,” a middle-aged man told local television.
The AMIA center became international news in 1994, when a bombing there killed 85 people.
A little rich on the rhetoric, this post highlights a turn to the right in a major South American Jewish community.