URUGUAY


URUGUAY, South American republic, general population: 3,080,000; Jewish population: 24,200.

The Beginning

There are few documents relating to Jewish history during the colonial period in Uruguay. In 1726 the governor of *Montevideo, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, still adhered to the accepted Spanish formula when he stipulated that the first settlers be "persons of worth, of good habits, repute and family, so that they be not of inferior nor of Moorish or Jewish race," and in 1760 Pedro Lago, a clergyman from Colonia del Sacramento, expressed to the Inquisition his suspicions regarding the existence of Jewish life in his city. More reliable sources, however, are lacking. With the demise of the Inquisition in 1813, the political and legal system prevailing in Uruguay, together with its tolerant population, provided the viable foundation for Jewish residence during the modern period.

The Modern Period

BASIC DATA

Geographically Uruguay is the smallest country in South America. The last official estimate of Uruguay's area is 186,925 km2 (instead of the former estimation of 187,500 km2). Of its 3,080,000 inhabitants, 1,200,000 (40%) live in the capital Montevideo.

Prof. Sergio Della Pergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem concluded that the number of 50,000 Jews in Uruguay often mentioned in different publications is unfounded and exaggerated. Instead he concluded that the number of Jews between 1936 and 1992 was as follows:

1936–1940: 25,000
1945–1946: 37,000
1990–1992: 24,200

Some 13,000 former Uruguayan Jews live in Israel. This is the highest proportion of aliyah from the Free World.

MODERNIZATION

The independent Uruguayan Republic was definitively established in 1830. In more recent times, the Constitution of 1918, championed by José Batlle y Ordóñez, established the principle of separation of church and state and defined the legal status of aliens, as well as their role in the political life of the country. The generally liberal-minded public, as well as the constitution, which accords social and economic equality to native and alien alike, provided the conditions for a successful Jewish community from the 1920s. The constitutions of 1934 and 1952, which altered the composition of the government, did not affect the prevailing legislation. The earliest available information about Jewish immigration to Uruguay dates from 1898; a 1909 report indicates that there were 1,700 Jews in the country, 75% of whom were Sephardim, the rest of them Russian, Romanian, Polish, and of Alsatian origin. Other reliable sources based on first-hand documentation from the first communal institutions, consistently report about a 50–50 parity between Sephardim and Ashkenazim from the beginning until the 1920s.

Immigration increased notably between 1925 and 1928, when Uruguay also served as a transit point – in some cases for illegal transit – to Argentina, which at that time had stringent immigration regulations. In 1933 there was again an increase in immigration, although just prior to World War II new limitations were imposed. In 1939 2,200 Jews entered the country, while in 1940, only 373.

KEHILLOT, ZIONISTS, AND ANTI-ZIONISTS

The Zionist movement began in 1911, when Dorshei Zion was founded, initially as an extension of the Argentinean Zionist Federation. The events affecting world Jewry and the activities of the Zionist movement evoked sympathy and support from the Jewish populace. During World War I, mass demonstrations acclaimed the Balfour Declaration, members of the community joined the Jewish Legion, protests were registered against the pogroms in Central Europe during the 1920s, and campaigns were staged to protest the Arab riots in Palestine in 1928–29. The Zionist movement was divided into the separate organizations of General Zionists, Po'alei Zion, Mizrachi, Revisionists as well as to WIZO and later on smaller women's organizations. For many years there was a "key" for the distribution of functions in the Consejo Central Sionista (later Organizacion Sionista del Uruguay), in the KKL, and in the KH: president – General Zionists; vice president – WIZO; secretary general – Po'alei Zion (Mapai); treasurer – Mizrachi, and so on. In 1945 the Zionist movement began to gain great momentum. The Consejo Central Sionista, comprising representatives of all the institutions, including the Federación Juvenil Sionista, was formed, and in 1960 the Federación Sionista Territorial Unificada, renamed in 1963 Organizacion Sionista del Uruguay (OSU), was founded as a central body of all Zionist parties and organizations as well as the Jewish Agency in charge of aliyah and other Zionist endeavors, including youth, pioneer, women's institutions, etc.

In 1970 the Montevideo Jewish community comprised four kehillot: Comunidad Israelita de Montevideo (Ashkenazi, founded in 1932), with 4,000 members; Comunidad Israelita Sefaradí (founded in 1932), with 1,500 members; Nueva Congregación Israelita (German-speaking, founded in 1936), with 1,500 members; and the Sociedad Israelita Hungara – SIHDU – (founded in 1942), with 200 members. The cemeteries of Ashkenazim and Sephardim, both on the outskirts of Montevideo, together with the respective ḥevra kaddisha funeral associations, were established a short time after World War I. As a matter of fact, the kehillot in Uruguay (and also in Argentina) evolved from a ḥevra kaddisha to a more diversified communal structure. Later on, the Yiddish-speaking communist sector established its own secular cemetery. The four kehillot noted are united under the umbrella organization Comité Central Israelita (CCI), which is affiliated with the *World Jewish Congress. The presidency of the CCI alternates between representatives of the four communities. Established in 1940 as the overall representative of the Jewish community vis-à-vis the government, the CCI played a pivotal role in combating antisemitism, especially during World War II, during subsequent sporadic resurgences of neo-Nazism, and at the time of Adolf *Eichmann's capture and trial. The vast majority of the leadership of the communities was Zionist. Consequently, the CCI usually maintained pro-Zionist positions and policies.

One of the former presidents of the CCI, professor of criminal law Nahum Bergstein, was later a senator, deputy minister of education and culture, and a member of the House. He introduced in the Uruguayan Parliament important resolutions concerning human rights, antisemitism, and solidarity with Israel in its struggle against terrorism.

Parallel to growing identification with Zionism among most Jewish inhabitants of Uruguay, there were also during the second and third decades of the 20th century isolated expressions of syndicalism; militant anti-Zionist Yiddishism; a small but very active Bund, especially in the cultural field through the I.L. Peretz Association; and a large, well organized Yiddish-speaking communist sector, self-defined as "progressive Jewry" as opposed to "national (Zionist) Jewry." The most important organization for the latter was the Asociación Cultural Jaim Zhitlowsky (founded around 1935), which also had a youth organization consisting of 300 members. Members of the Asociación received medical benefits provided by the Mutualista Israelita del Uruguay (founded 1940), and the Asociación maintained the above-mentioned separate, secular (non-religious) cemetery. Partisan discord characterized relations between the Zionist and "progressive" blocs, particularly during the 1930s. In the face of steadily increasing antisemitism, in 1938 an attempt was made to forge a united front through the short-lived Comité Contra el Nazismo y el Antisemitismo in order to defend the community and represent it vis-à-vis the government. Nevertheless, the confrontation between both sectors continued and deepened particularly after the Hitler-Stalin agreement of August 1939, openly backed by the Jewish "progressive" local daily Unzer Fraint, and the bankruptcy of the "progressive"-dominated "Banco Israelita," which badly affected the savings of recently arrived refugees from Germany and annexed Austria. After the establishment of the State of Israel and during the Stalinist persecutions of 1948–52, some "progressives" joined the ranks of the Zionist-oriented community; the majority, however, maintained their pro-Communist affiliations. The situation was not the same among their younger generation: part of them assimilated and another part went over to the Zionist youth movements and their presence in Israel, especially in kibbutzim and academic life, is visible and successful.

ECONOMY

At first the Jews in Uruguay engaged primarily in minor commerce (food, clothing, used articles), peddling, light industries (needles, leather, furs, textiles), independent or salaried crafts (tailors, hairdressers, watchmakers, printers), and salaried jobs (construction, factories). During the 1929–33 economic crisis, the Jewish community suffered severely, but it regained prosperity with the economic revival. At the same time, the German immigration of the 1930s gave impetus to commerce and minor crafts, and the economic upswing continued during World War II. In 1970 industry, commerce in textiles, furs, furniture, pharmaceutical products, plastics, metallurgy, and electronics were well established. Members of the professions occupied intermediate positions on the economic ladder, and a small number of Jews were partners in agricultural corporations that dealt in rural land and its products.

Attempts at Jewish agricultural settlement in Uruguay proved abortive. The first was the "19 de Abril" settlement, founded in Paysandú by 38 families that had previously tried to settle in the ICA settlements in Brazil. They received 9,880 acres of land from the Institute de Colonización of the Uruguayan Republic. Overcoming a difficult beginning, the settlers met with success after a ten-year period, but the settlement gradually lost its Jewish members; during the 1930s, five Jewish families remained, and in 1950 there was only one. Another Jewish colony founded in 1924 in Mercedes failed shortly afterward. The third, the "Tres Árboles" settlement (1938–39), was a Communist-inspired Jewish venture, but it failed primarily because of the bankruptcy of the Banco Israelita del Uruguay, on which it depended. Its collapse in 1939 precipitated a chain of bankruptcies among small merchants and industrialists and brought about the failure of the agricultural settlement "Tres Árboles." The bank managed to reopen and resume operations, however. The Centre Commercial e Industrial Israelita del Uruguay (1933), known from 1950 as the Banco Palestino-Uruguayo, was a well-established institution with branches even outside the country. In Israel it worked in particular with Bank Leumi. Later on, it was acquired by other general, non-Jewish financial enterprises. Two well-established commercial cooperatives, originally peddlers cooperatives, were the Corporación Comercial SA (pro-Zionist, founded in 1930) and the Cooperative Comercial del Uruguay (progressive, founded in 1936), which closed with the collapse of the Banco Israelita and recommenced activities in 1945 under the name La Amistad. There are still, here and there, some Jewish peddlers, but with large shopping centers and the extensive use of credit cards, this is undoubtedly an outmoded and old-fashioned source of "parnose" (livelihood), classical among Jewish immigrants in the whole American continent. The predominantly labor, artisan, and small business class of the 1920s gradually gave way to a social group of middle class merchants, industrialists, salaried employees, and professionals, with few laborers and few wealthy individuals.

In the early 21st century, the younger generation of Uruguayan Jews includes a very high proportion of professionals. People tried to reach upper class or upper middle class standards of living even when their wealth was in many cases more apparent than real, at least by international Western criteria. At the same time the remaining lower middle class Jews (such as small merchants or employees in small businesses or factories) were in a very unsure and weak economic situation. Even when they arrive in Israel when making aliyah or immigrate to other countries, their adaptation to different languages and present-day technological requirements is far from easy.

ANTISEMITISM

In January 1919, under the pretext of repressing revolutionaries and Bolsheviks and as a result of the events during Argentina's "Tragic Week," punitive measures were taken against workers and certain elements of the lower class. Eighty percent of the Jewish population was investigated by the police and there were many instances of imprisonment and expulsion.

During the 1930s "anti-alien" campaigns were organized, posing a serious threat to the Jewish community. Their instigators were radical nationalists and local and foreign Fascists (Vanguardia de la Patria), but large numbers of traditionally liberal elements also participated. Familiar forms of racial discrimination were invoked in sidewalk demonstrations, in the press, and on the radio. The alien character of the Jews was underscored, and demands were voiced for a ban on Jewish immigration and for the exclusion of Jews from commercial activities and other sources of income. The community organized itself in self-defense. Measures against the rise of Fascism were adopted by the administration of General Alfredo Baldomir (inaugurated 1938), and during World War II the community enjoyed the protection of the government. During the Eichmann trial (1961) serious antisemitic disturbances were provoked by local neo-Nazi associations linked to foreign cells. The Jewish community, supported by certain branches of the government and liberal political and intellectual groups, organized its defense once again. In the 1960s there were sporadic antisemitic outbursts associated with nationalist-radical and neo-Nazi-affiliated groups, some of them originating in Argentina.

EDUCATION, YOUTH, RELIGIOUS LIFE, AND JEWISH MEDIA

Since their inception, both the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi communities have maintained religious studies. In 1929 the Ashkenazi ḥevra kaddisha established an educational network in collaboration with ICA. The most prominent educational institutions were the Zionist Herzl School founded in 1928; the Talmud Torah Eliezer ben Yehuda, founded in 1928 by the Sephardi ḥevra kaddisha; the Scholem Aleichem School founded in 1941 by the left Po'alei Zion; the Mizrachi school and Yeshivah ha-Rav Kook, founded in 1945, which added the Ma'aleh secondary school in 1956; and the ultra-Orthodox talmud torah and ḥeder Adat Yere'im, founded in 1948. In the early 21st century Jewish education was concentrated in three big integral schools (day schools): the Integral School, the Ariel School (which includes the former schools Scholem Aleichem and Ivriah), and the Yavne School (religious Zionist). All of them include kindergarten, elementary school, and secondary school, and all are Zionist – their Jewish program is handled by Israeli teachers and local teachers who complete one year of pedagogical studies in Jerusalem. The curriculum includes in general subjects, in addition to Spanish and Hebrew, and also English. The so-called "workers' schools," active from 1925 to the 1950s, followed the Yiddishist, leftist, non-Zionist ideology. The only remaining school of this trend is the Jaim Zhitlowsky school (founded in 1930). The Jewish ORT School, specializing in hi-tech, is recognized as a university. Even though a large proportion of its students are not Jews, the curriculum also includes a program of Jewish studies. The educational network is coordinated by the Vaad-Hachinuch, the "Education Ministry" of Uruguayan Jews.

Informal education is given by the Zionist and pioneer youth groups, including Bnei Akiva, Dror, Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, Ha-No'ar ha-Ẓiyyoni, Israel ha-Ẓe'ira, and Betar. Local youth organizations include the Hebraica-Macabi (social and sports activities); Juventud Sefaradí; and the youth section of the Nueva Congregación Israelita. A pivotal function was filled in the past by the student organization Union Universitaria Kadimah (founded in 1940), later continued by the Association of Professionals "Jaim Weizman." The activities of all Zionist-oriented youth-organizations are coordinated by the Federación Juvenil Sionista (founded 1941). The "progressive" youth is organized in the Federación Juvenil Jaim Zhitlowsky, which has two centers. Its membership declined in the post-Stalin period.

In view of the predominantly secular trends in the community, there is little religious extremism. Basic tradition is observed, and the communities assume responsibility for the fulfillment of ritual. There are small groups of extreme Orthodox Jews who came from Hungary and Transylvania in the 1950s and formed the Kehillah Adat Yere'im. But they are members of the Ashkenazi community and submit to its decisions. An interfaith organization made up of Catholics, Evangelists, and Jews is active in promoting inter-religious harmony and engages in social work.

Cultural life is predominant and is integrated into the program of the majority of the communal social, political, and educational institutions, such as B'nai B'rith. For the most part, the cultural activities are of an informative character on subjects of both Jewish and general interest and are usually carried on in Spanish. Among members of the older Ashkenazi generation, Yiddish continues to be spoken. A small number of Hebraists tried on different occasions to establish a Moadon Ivri. A few authors among the first generation wrote original literary works on Jewish philosophical, religious, and historical themes in Yiddish and Hebrew. Authors of the second generation wrote essays and literature of a general nature in Spanish. *YIVO has a branch in Uruguay with an archive and a library, and the Jewish writers and journalists had, in the recent past, their own association.

The Jewish press in Uruguay was at first closely linked with the Argentinean press. Starting in 1920 with the Spanish Voz Hebrea through the dailies Der Tog and Morgentsaytung of the 1930s, the Uruguayan Jewish community still had three dailies in the 1960s: Folksblat (founded in 1934), Haynt (founded in 1957), and the Communist Unzer Fraynt (founded in 1935). All of them closed. The only surviving publication in the early 21st century was the Spanish weekly Semanario Hebreo (founded in 1954). In the past a Zionist religious weekly Der Moment (founded in 1940) also appeared. There were several other periodicals, the most prominent being the Gemeindeblatt (founded in 1938), a weekly of the German-speaking community.

There are 14 Orthodox and one Conservative synagogues, with two Orthodox and two Conservative rabbis. The Chabad Center, with its own rabbi, has no communal affiliation. The Jewish schools are attended by 40% of the Jewish children. Nearly all of Uruguay's 24,200 Jews live in the capital, Montevideo. About one hundred families live in Paysandu. Many Jews – particularly Argentineans – come to the Punta del Este summer resort for the summer and even for weekends during the rest of the year. As a result, there are four synagogues functioning in the summer and one year-round.

In the past an important function was performed by the Jewish radio broadcasts. The most important were "Hora Cultural Israelita" continued later by "Voz de Sion en el Uruguay." Both of them transmitted daily except Yom Kippur from 12 to 14:30. They began in the 1930s and the last broadcast of "Voz de Sion" was in 2000. Another daily program, called "Hora Israelita Polaca," was transmitted two hours daily until the 1960s. All of them were Zionist-oriented and used Spanish and Yiddish alternatively. The German-speaking Jews have two daily broadcasts in German, one at lunchtime and one in the evening, even though both of them try to define themselves as "international and interconfessional." There were also weekly broadcasts.

The official government TV station included a once-a-week, one-hour transmission (on Sunday morning) dedicated to Jewish matters and to the relationship with Israel. The program was halted, but there is a similar program today (2005). Jewish institutions intensively use the Internet. For example, the German-speaking community, instead of its former German weekly Gemeindeblatt, now disseminates information and comments in Spanish through the Internet.

[Rosa Perla Reicher /

Nahum Schutz (2nd ed.)]

Relations with Israel

Immediately after the Balfour Declaration of Nov. 2, 1917, promising British backing for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine, the Uruguayan government initiated a clear-cut policy in favor of the Zionist aspirations. The main champion of that policy, Dr. Alberto Guani, was Uruguay's delegate at the 1920 *San Remo Conference of the League of Nations establishing the British Mandate on Palestine, specifically destined to foster the realization of the Balfour Declaration.

The same Dr. Guani was President Alfredo Baldomir's foreign minister in 1940, valiantly facing very direct and crude threats from Adolf Hitler during the Graf Spee affair: the giant battleship Graf Spee, described by Churchill as "the terror of the South Atlantic," was badly mauled by three small British destroyers near the Uruguayan summer resort of Punta del Este. The ship reached the neutral port of Montevideo and Dr. Guani decided that by international law the ship would be permitted to bury the dead, leave the wounded in hospitals, and repair its engines but not its guns. Berlin pressed strongly but Dr. Guani did not yield. The Graff Spee left Montevideo and sank itself. At that time Uruguay was an honorable exception, since the rest of the Latin American countries oscillated between a pro-Nazi or pro-fascist position or – at least – a kind of neutrality. Instead, Uruguay was openly anti-Nazi.

In April 1947, Uruguay was among the nations that voted for the establishment of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), one of whose members was Prof. Enrique Rodriguez Fabregat of Uruguay. Rodriguez Fabregat, together with the delegate of Guatemala, Dr. Jorge Garcia Granados, was the architect of the partition plan approved by the UN General Assembly on Nov. 11, 1947, including the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Friendly relations between the two countries began with the enthusiastic support of Uruguay for the new state. Two successive Uruguayan presidents, Tomas Berreta and Luis Batlle Berres, strongly favored the policy advocated by Rodriguez Fabregat who was advised by the historian of the Near East, Prof. Oscar Secco-Ellauri, future Uruguayan foreign minister and president of the Uruguay-Israel Institute of Cultural Relations.

Uruguay was also the first Latin American country, and the fourth country in the world, to recognize the State of Israel (May 19, 1948). Montevideo was the first Latin American capital and the fourth city in the world in which an Israeli diplomatic representation was set up (Nov. 1, 1948). On May 11, 1949, Uruguay stood out in its negative vote on the question of international administration over Jerusalem. The Uruguayan legation established in Tel Aviv in 1951 was transferred to Jerusalem in 1956. After the Six-Day War (1967), Uruguay was among the states that abstained in the UN vote against the union of Jerusalem. Later on, under strong international pressure the diplomatic representation was transferred from Jerusalem to Herzliyyah.

Streets in the capital of each country have been named in honor of the other, and parliamentary delegations have exchanged visits. The two countries have signed a trade and maritime agreement, and a forest has been planted in the Judean Mountains honoring the Uruguayan national hero, Artigas (1958). A forest named "Uruguay" was also planted in the hills of Western Galilee. Also in 1958, the diplomatic representations in Montevideo and Jerusalem were raised to the status of embassies, and the foreign ministers of each state exchanged visits at different opportunities. A visit by the president of the State of Israel to Uruguay and the reciprocal visit of Uruguayan ministers, members of parliament, scientists, authors, and artists have been dear expressions of the friendly relations between the two states. When the then foreign minister of Israel, Moshe Sharett, visited Uruguay in 1953, he signed a cultural agreement with the government. The Uruguay-Israel Institute for Cultural Relations has been set up there. In 1968 the export from Israel to Uruguay was $214,000 and in 1969 it was $212,000. Israel imported $3,360,000 worth of goods from Uruguay in 1968 and $4,433,000 worth in 1969. Israel exports mostly minerals and chemicals to Uruguay and imports meat and wool. A trade agreement was signed between the two countries on June 13, 1968, and an agreement for scientific and technical cooperation was signed at the same time. Uruguay is one of the most important exporters of meat to Israel and during various periods Israel was the number one client for Uruguayan meat. An agreement for cooperation in the field of atomic development was signed on June 23, 1966. Israel had provided Uruguay with scholarships in such fields as agriculture, cooperative living, social work, and education. Years ago, a post-graduate scholarship in medicine was awarded to the present-day (2005) Uruguayan president, Dr. Tabare Vazquez.

The state of the relations between Uruguay and Israel as of 2005 can be summed up as follows:

1) Excellent bilateral relations.

2) As far as the Middle East conflict is concerned, Uruguay is no longer the idealistic "Don Quixote" backing Zionism for idealistic reasons. Uruguay has continued to be more friendly to Israeli positions and more responsive to issues such as terror and open antisemitism than other countries, but under pressure from various international parties, its voting record vis-à-vis anti-Israel proposals is not positive – at best its representatives abstain.

Cordial relations between the two peoples, on the nongovernmental level, were fostered from the mid-1980s on by the Asociacion de Amistad Israel-Uruguay. The Uruguayan embassy cooperates intensively with the association and, in addition, some cultural initiatives are undertaken by the embassy through the framework of a foundation specifically dedicated to that type of activity.

[Nissim Itzhak /

Nahum Schutz (2nd ed.)]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

J. Beller, Jews in Latin America (1963), 218–30; J. Shatzky, Yidishe Yishuvim in Latayn-Amerike (1952), 15–25; World Jewish Congress, Judíos en el Uruguay (Sp., 1957); I. Ganon, in: Commentario, 14:54 (1967), 52–56; J. Jerosolimsky, ibid., 76–83; B. Lewin, Los Judíos bajo la Inquisición en Hispanoamérica (1960); A. Monk and J. Isaacson (eds.); Comunidades Judías de Latinoamérica (1968), 115–21. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R.H. Fitzgibbon, Uruguay, Portrait of a Democracy (1966); H. Avni, R.P. Raicher, David Bankier (eds.), Memorias del Uruguay e Israel, Proyecto Seroussi (1989); R.P. Raicher, El Uruguay, la Comunidad Israelita y el Pueblo Judio (2003); W. Eytan, Los Primeros Diez Anios (1959); J. Veinshenker, Builders and Co-Builders of the Jewish Community in Uruguay (Yid., 1957); I. Nemirovsky, Albores del Judaismo en el Uruguay (1987); "The Jewish Immigrants in Uruguay," in: Haaretz (Heb., Oct. 10, 1931); T. Porzecansky, Historias de Vidas de Inmigrantes Judios al Uruguay (1988); N. Schutz, The K.K.L. in Uruguay 1930–1960 (Heb., 1996); idem, The KKL in Uruguay 1930–1960 (Sp., 1998); M.A. Tov, El Murmullo de Israel, historial diplomatico (1983); C. Aldrighi, M.M. Apou, M. Feldman, G. Abend, T. Porzecansky, Antisemitismo en el Uruguay (Sp., 2000); N. Bergstein, Jew: An Uruguayan Experience (1993).


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.