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Around the Jewish World After Years of Consolidation, Buenos Aires Gets a New Shul

September 1, 2004
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After years during which closings and mergings outnumbered openings in Argentine organizations, the local Jewish community hopes it has reversed the trend with the inauguration of a new synagogue. The modern architectural style of the Amijai synagogue, which opened Aug. 25, makes it one of the most imposing and beautiful in the region.

Over the past decade, the Argentine Jewish community has mainly opened social service centers to strengthen the welfare net helping 35,000 Jews with food, medicine, clothing and cash assistance.

A few synagogues took up residence inside existing schools, and a spiritual center called Mishkan opened that is not affiliated with any of the major Jewish streams.

Amijai — the first synagogue built and opened in the past several years — doesn’t indicate that the community has recovered from the country’s economic crisis. Rather, it was made possible thanks to the donation of one family that s! old a music company.

“The decision came almost seven years ago as a one-time strike,” Natalio Garber, whose family funded the new synagogue, told JTA.

Garber came to Amijai’s existing small office “with a suitcase full of clothes to donate. Noticing the need we had to acquire our own temple, he became enthusiastic,” Amijai’s rabbi, Dario Feiguin, told JTA.

In early 1993, Feiguin and a group of families — many of them from the Tarbut Hebrew school — created their own project and named it Amijai. They had an office for community activities, but they had to borrow space at the Marshal T. Meyer Latin American Rabbinical Seminary for religious services. Both Amijai and the seminary belong to the Conservative movement.

Some 150 families are active participants in the congregation.

“Their support and commitment was needed to develop this huge project,” said Garber, who is Amijai’s president.

The synagogue has room to seat 850 people. Garber told JTA that t! he synagogue is working to develop projects with other Jewish organiza tions, so more Jews can take advantage of the center.

Of the 80 synagogues throughout Argentina, Buenos Aires’ Belgrano neighborhood — where Amijai is located — already offered 14 religious options for Jews. The enormous location occupied by Amijai is in the heart of a three-block area known as the local Chinatown.

More than 1,000 people came to the opening service, when the Garbers lit the eternal flame in the sanctuary.

National and city representatives and members from different religions were part of the audience, along with Jewish political, educational and community leaders.

“I see this opening as a hinge for local community life,” businessman Guillermo Son told JTA at the opening night. Son’s father in-law — who died in 2002 — was a founder of Amijai.

A few rows behind, Denise Attar Cohen, a 20-year-old law student, effusively hugged Kate Losman and Susan Zemsky. Both Losman and Zemsky came from the United States to assist in the opening of the sist! er community to Kehila Chadasha of Washington and Maryland, where they belong.

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