Nobody would have realized that Paula Rosembaun and Aida Razza had just met. These two women — who both arrived in Argentina before World War II and now are in their late 70s — talked animatedly, laughing and touching hands as they recalled their childhoods in Europe.
“My house, too, used to have that Pesach smell,” Rosembaun told JTA. “That smell of new dishes, of shirts just ironed, of a special food just ready filling every corner of the house.”
Rosembaun was one of 378 Jews gathered in Buenos Aires’ Libertad Synagogue for a seder on the second night of Passover, part of the “Passover Together” program held at some 50 Argentine Jewish institutions around the country.
“To me, Pesach was the time to think of peace and to share. And now, with the hard situation Jews are going through, in Argentina and all over the world, I feel there is a lack of hope,” she told JTA. “But being with so many people tonight also gives me a deep feeling of recovering strength.”
Around Argentina, 15,021 Jews enjoyed Passover Together seders, which were intended mainly for those who couldn’t afford to make seders at home because of the country’s economic crisis.
The program was supported by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee with local institutions, including the central AMIA Jewish institution, Tzedaka social service organization, synagogues, clubs and welfare and senior centers.
Through JDC, 5,000 Spanish Haggadahs, 5,000 yarmulkes inscribed with the words “Passover Together,” liters of kosher wine, matzah and seder plates were distributed across the country.
“Just as in ancient times, Passover symbolizes the freedom of the Jews,” Steven Schwager, JDC’s chief operating officer, told JTA from New York. “In the past it was freedom from slavery, today in Argentina it’s from the economic crisis.”
JDC hopes “this seder will be a new beginning for the Jewish community and will lift the spirits of all who attend,” Schwager said.
Rabbi Tzvi Grunblat, general director of Chabad Argentina, told JTA that his organization has been holding communal seders for 20 years before joining this first bigger celebration.
With support from JDC, some people who were able to pay for their assistance and Chabad’s own resources, Chabad hosted seders for 3,000 people in Buenos Aires and in the interior of the country.
In addition, 326 Israeli backpackers were invited to a Chabad seder in the Patagonian city of Bariloche. That seder, in front of Nahuel Huapi Lake, lasted until 1 a.m.
Chabad also distributed about 55,000 pounds of matzah for Passover week.
Despite a heavy rain and the announcement that a general bus strike would begin that night, people arrived at Libertad Synagogue at 8 p.m. sharp for the communal seder.
The guests included some 200 Holocaust survivors, who have been impoverished again by Argentina’s economic collapse.
“This is the time to be together,” said Adriana Chiarte, a staffer at the Holocaust Memory Foundation. “At such a hard time and complex reality, the only thing that can give us some sort of peace is being together and recognizing that the most important thing is our history.”
Holocaust survivor Greta Krauss, 72, found links between her past and her present reality.
Krauss was born in a small town between Romania and Russia. In 1943, when she was 13, much of her family was captured by the Nazis. Krauss, her mother and her two brothers escaped their clutches.
“We walked and walked and walked,” Krauss told JTA. “We went on foot until we arrived in Italy.”
In Florence, a priest let the Krausses hide in a convent.
“We spent many months without ever going out. I remember we spent a Pesach inside the convent and we did the ceremony as we could,” she said. “I will never forget that during the celebration, we heard the Nazi sirens through the locked windows.”
When they were offered the chance to go to Argentina, they didn’t even know where it was, Krauss said.
“And I am still here today, celebrating as I can, as I feel. This dinner given me tonight, the possibility of being with all these people, knowing that care was taken even to provide me a taxi to go back home — all these supportive, understanding, good people,” Krauss said, picking up her wineglass for a toast “to life.”
Rabbi Sergio Bergman, who was in charge of the Libertad seder, also praised the impulse behind the event.
“Despite all the problems, this is the celebration of freedom, life, memory and remembering slavery,” he told the crowd. “This celebration makes us be together, see each other, talk, explain to our children, share. We all know that share is to distribute, and that is the sense of this ‘Passover Together.’ “
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.