The Gaucho Judío

The gaucho is an archetypal Argentine image, but it’s little-known that many were of Jewish origin. The first known mass Jewish immigration was in the late 19th century, when 800 Russian Jews arrived, fleeing persecution from Tsar Alexander III.

The Jewish Colonization Association, funded by a German philanthropist, began distributing 100-hectare parcels of land to immigrant families; the first major colony was Moisés Ville in Santa Fe province, which became known at the time as Jerusalem Argentina. Today there are only about 300 Jewish residents left in town (15% of the population), but many traditions prevail: the tiny town boasts four synagogues, the bakery sells Sabbath bread, and kids in the street use Yiddish slang words like ‘schlep’ and ‘schlock.’

These rural Jews readily assimilated into Argentine society, mixing their own traditions with those of their adopted country, so it was not unusual to see a figure on horseback in baggy pants, canvas shoes and skullcap on his way to throw a hunk of cow on the asado (barbecue). Many descendants have since left the land in search of education and opportunities in the cities. Argentina’s Jews number about 200,000, making them Latin America’s largest Jewish community.

To learn more about the gauchos judíos, visit Concordia's Museo Judío de Entre Ríos.