Immigration: A New (and Not-so-new) Crisis

Immigration Spring 2007

Immigration has become one of the hot controversies in America. The flow of illegal immigrants across the Mexican border has triggered an intense backlash of protest and resentment. Some protestors are demanding deportation and a wall of separation. Others are insisting on more intense surveillance. Still others want immigrants to commit them­selves to speaking English.

Immigrants have been a controversial issue ever since the beginning of the United States of America. They were obviously useful, fill­ing up the Western lands with white settlers and providing cheap labor for burgeoning industry. But they also were a problem. The self-image of America was tied up with being a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation. Hordes of Catholics and Jews, Eastern Europeans and Southern Europeans, threatened the cultural and ethnic unity of the American people. In the middle of the nineteenth century a power­ful new political party (the American Party) emerged on the political scene to demand an end to immigration.

The issue of “foreigners” was aggravated by the presence in America of a large “unassimilable” population of African slaves. Even for millions of Americans who were opposed to slavery, the thought of a future America filled with free blacks was not an attractive vision. Many abolitionists preferred the “re­turn” of blacks to their African homeland, feeling that African-American race and culture posed a danger to a homogeneous nation. To these white Americans diversity had its limits if the nation was to continue a nation. Lincoln, early in his political career, advocated this “return” program.

The victory of the North in the Civil War subverted the power of the nativists. The Yan­kees were committed to the industrialization of America. This transformation was possible only with the availability of vast reservoirs of cheap labor. Whatever ethnic reservations the Yankee elite had about foreigners, no anxiety could effectively resist the prospect of becoming rich. America opened its doors to millions of immigrants seeking a better life. The only restriction was that immigrants had to be white. Europeans were welcomed, but Asians were discouraged – and sometimes barred from entering.

America was irreversibly changed by the massive entry of new immigrants after 1865. The first wave of Irish and Germans was fol­lowed by the second wave of Italians, Slavs, and Ashkenazic Jews. Catholics became the majority in dozens of American cities. Eth­nic ghettos transformed the urban landscape and replaced the old with a new diversity. A shrinking rural America remained the heart­land of Anglo-Saxon culture. But it was van­ishing in many places and losing political power. Public schools softened the blow of change. They turned white immigrants into English-speaking imitations of the original Anglo-Saxon American. But the imitation was never quite the same as the original.

Again the nativists rallied. After the First World War, in 1924, they closed the doors to immigration. Only a small number of north­western Europeans were allowed to enter. This xenophobia was accompanied by the absurd episode of Prohibition, a silly attempt to preserve Anglo-Saxon virtue with an attack on the “alcoholic” culture of Catholics and other immigrants. Prohibition failed. And so did the nativist campaign to keep America white and Anglo-Saxon.

The relentless demand for new cheap labor prevailed over the racism of the nativ­ists. With the end of the Depression and with the coming of the new prosperity of postwar America, immigration revived. The Cold War cut off the access to the remaining pools of poor people in Eastern Europe. Two new groups arrived on the immigration scene to replace white recruits. Asians and Hispanics constituted the majority of the new arrivals. And all this racial change was preceded by a massive internal immigration, the transfer of millions of African-Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North.

While Asians tended to enter the middle class through their educational achievement and entrepreneurial skills, Hispanics became the new menial labor of America. From cherry pickers to construction workers, they filled the vacuum left by traditional white workers climbing into the middle class. Although the label Hispanic designates their language, it fails to designate their race. Hispanics are not Spanish. They are mestizo descendants of Amerindians (Mexicans). They are mulatto offspring of Latin American blacks (Puerto Ricans). They are an assault on the white self- image of old America.

Latin American poverty and rising expec­tation triggered a mass exodus of Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorians, Nicaraguans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Brazilians, and Do­minicans from their homelands. “Gringoland” was the place of economic opportunity. Be­cause U.S. immigration laws were unfriendly to unskilled labor, millions of Hispanics chose to cross the American border illegally. Today ten million people in the United States are illegal Hispanic immigrants.[1] While they perform useful work, they also impose heavy burdens on public education and public wel­fare. Their persistence in retaining Spanish threatens the English-speaking self-image of other Americans. And their non-white racial characteristics threaten the vision of America as a predominantly white nation. We all know that if ten million Swedes were “swimming” across the Rio Grande illegally, the nativists would not be up in arms.

Driving out ten million illegal Hispanics is not politically possible. Big business and small business need their cheap labor. And legal Hispanics are a large minority with formidable voting power, especially in states like Texas and California. The Republican Party, the historic home of nativist sentiment, is hope­lessly divided on this issue. The economic conservatives want to legalize the illegals and to provide for the entry of thousands of guest workers. The social conservatives want to drive out the illegals and to preserve the his­torical culture and racial character of America, no matter what the economic consequences. President George W. Bush has sided with the economic conservatives. But his Religious Right allies oppose him on this issue.

What is going to happen? Will the contro­versy irreparably harm the Republican Party? Will Hispanics be deported? Will a wall of ex­clusion be built along the Mexican border?

Realism provides the answers. The Ameri­can economy needs cheap menial labor. The Hispanics remain the only available labor pool to service this need. A Republican determina­tion to hold back the Hispanic tide will drive the Hispanics completely into the Democratic camp. The prevailing birth rates indicate that within fifty years the majority of Americans will not be white. While English will remain the world language, English in America will increasingly share space with Spanish. (In a global world, bilingualism is an asset, not a catastrophe.) America, like all the other countries in the developed world, is becoming a multicultural state. Anglo-Saxon America is fading away. Asians and Hispanics are on the rise.

Realism dictates that we make it easy for Hispanics to enter the United States. We need menial workers as well as well-educated immi­grants. The present illegals should be legalized. Future illegals should be punished. The flow of temporary and permanent Hispanic residents needs an open door, not a closed one.


The Lesson of Evita, a Review

Homosexual Rights – Spring 1997

I loved Evita. I loved the musical. I loved the movie. And, I thought that Madonna was an extraordinary Eva Peron.

But seeing Evita made me reflect on the politics of the modern world. After all, the fas­cism of the Perons was a unique fascism, an alliance between the army and the labor unions. Historically, in most conservative countries, the army allies itself with the clergy and the upper classes. But not in Argentina under Peron. As we can tell from the frustrated “oligarchy” in the Webber musical, singing in their upper-class accents, the old ruling class were not happy with the Perons. Eva hated them. She was happiest when she was mesmerizing the descamisados, her shirtless workers.

Fascism is on the Right. But it is not conservative. It is a radical response to the traumas of modern capitalism. Unlike com­munism, which glorifies the industrial worker and the international working class, fascism glorifies the peasant, the soldier, and the pa­triot. The soldier, in particular, is the hero of fascist intellectuals. (The soldier is also peas­ant and patriot.) In a capitalistic world he is seen as the victim of the masters of money, the corrupt politicians of democracy, and the effete and indifferent upper classes. His res­cue can be effected only by a leader who em­bodies the will of the people, a hero who will turn the whole nation into an army of virtue and mutual support.

Both Hitler and Mussolini hated the up­per classes. They played to the lower classes, to their sense of victimization in a cruel capitalistic world, to their hatred of urban life, to their fear of foreigners, to their yearning for self-esteem through military glory. Both Hitler and Mussolini were veterans of the First World War. Their first followers were lower- class unemployed veterans, filled with hatred of the rich and the privileged, and open to any conspiracy theory that featured foreign­ers and Jews. The gauleiters of the Nazi Party were not aristocrats. They despised aristo­crats. They preferred German leaders who talked like Huey Long, George Wallace, and Pat Buchanan. Unlike the old conservative ideologies of pedigree and property, fascism had the power to mobilize the masses.

But neither Hitler nor Mussolini suc­ceeded in winning over the leaders of indus­trial labor. The urban workers voted against fascism. In the end, both dictators were forced to make alliances with the aristocrats they despised. It was the Perons, in the very hour when the forces of fascism experienced their terrible defeat in both Europe and Asia, who succeeded in making an alliance between the army and the labor unions. Behind the songs and biography of Evita lies an extraordinary and frightening political development.

Argentina had become a rich country by the beginning of the twentieth century. Brit­ish investment, the invention of refrigeration and the European demand for Argentine beef and wheat produced enormous wealth. But this wealth was very unevenly distributed.

A small number of landed aristocrats con­trolled most of it. They indulged themselves with excessive luxury and monopolized all positions of political power. Needing work­ers for their economic empire, they imported large numbers of Spanish and Italian immi­grants, who transformed the port city of Buenos Aires into one of the great metropoli­tan centers of the world. Many of these immi­grants created a new middle class that struggled with the aristocrats for political con­trol. For a short time in the 1920s the middle class prevailed. But most of the peasants and urban workers remained excluded, oppressed, and ignored. They were the “losers” of an emerging modern economy.

The key to the success of Juan and Eva was that they spoke to the “losers” in a lan­guage that the lower classes could understand — a language of paternal and maternal love, a language of patriotism and lower-class resent­ment. The turn-off language of intellectual socialism and sophisticated atheism never burdened their communication. The lower classes did not want democracy. They wanted jobs, recognition, and revenge. Eva under­stood them. That is why in poor neighbor­hoods in Argentina she is still remembered as “Santa Evita.”

In time, without Eva, the Peron regime collapsed from its own economic mismanage­ment. The upper and middle classes rejoiced. The army returned to its traditional alliance with the rich and the clergy. But the new gov­ernment, including the present one (which is ironically Peronist without any of the pro­grams of PeronJ has not found the solution to the problem of the unhappy “losers,” the work­ers that modern capitalism so easily displaces.

Evita makes you think. In an America where so many workers are discovering that their standard of living is falling, that their jobs are disappearing to automation or to for­eign competition, where foreigners abound in ethnically mixed cities, and where the sepa­ration between the “winners” and “losers” is growing wider, is it possible that disgruntled labor could make an alliance with undemo­cratic politicians and soldiers in an outburst of impulsive resentment? I think not. But Evita makes me think of the danger of a world where the “winners” indulge their right to self-absorption and where the “losers” are cast aside, alienated from the economic game, and consumed by envy and anger. The problem of Evita will not go away.

The Rabbi Writes – My Trip to South America, Part II

The Jewish Humanist, November 1989, Vol. XXVI, Number 4

My Trip to South America, Part II 

Humanistic Judaism is now part of the South American Jewish scene.  Two small national organizations exist-one in Argentina and one in Uruguay. Both of them sent representatives to the first meeting of the International Federation in Detroit. 

Although the Argentine and Uruguayan associations did not appear until 1986, a secular approach to Jewish identity has deep roots in Latin America. The first immigration to Argentina in the early part of the twentieth century included many radical idealists who had rebelled against orthodox dictation and who sought to transform Jewish life by returning to the land and creating secular Jewish communes. The children of these pioneers ultimately ended up in Buenos Aires and the other big cities of Argentina.  For many of these radicals their Jewishness was expressed in a passionate commitment to Yiddish as the language of the Jewish working class. 

In Uruguay the very nature of the country encouraged secularism.  Little Uruguay was the first Latin American country to establish a radical separation of church and state.  Strongly influenced by European liberal ideals, the ruling elite of Uruguay developed one of the most secular countries in the world.  Only in Uruguay could an avowed atheist become the president of the nation.  Today almost half the population declares itself to be “non-believers”.  Even Scandinavia and Holland can hardly match that percentage. 

In such an environment the Jewish milieu mirrored the Gentile precedent.  Reinforced by some of the same radicals who made their way to Argentina, the Montevideo community initially featured a Jewishness that was more cultural than religious. 

Ultimately Jewish organizational identity in both Argentina and Uruguay was chiefly expressed in institutions other than synagogues.  Jewish schools (both part-time and full-time), Jewish community centers Yiddishist cultural associations and Zionist societies became the foundatons of Jewish communal life.  Jews were secular without being fully aware that secularism or humanism were alternatives to the old religious ideology. 

Ever since the 1950’s important changes have occurred in both communities.  The continuous political and economic turmoil-especially in Argentina-stimulated emigration to either Israel or North America.  (Argentina’s Jewish population declined from 400,000 to 300,000; Uruguay’s from 50,000 to 30,000).  The attempt by the American Conservative movement to establish a sister movement in Latin America proved very successful.  A Conservative seminary was created in Buenos Aires; and its graduates have become religious pioneers in a secular world.  The success of the Conservatives is due to their ability to mix Zionism and bourgeois respectability in a nice delicate balance-and, above all, to the quality of their trained leaders.  Disorganized secularism could not compete against such competence. 

Also the emergence of the ultra-Orthodox missionaries and zealots has made an important impact.  Posing as the defenders of Jewish identity in a world of assimilation, they have invaded Jewish communal structures, demanding subsidies and offering their services for Jewish education.  Many secularists are bewildered about how to confront such passionate determination. 

Today the Jewish communities of Argentina and Uruguay remain different from those in North America in very distinct ways.  Although many Jewish families go back through four generations of local residence, most Jews are of more recent vintage-post World War I and World War II.  Being newer they are less assimilated than their American counterparts. 

Religious organizations, while stronger than they were before, are still weaker than their secular counterparts-schools, clubs and centers.  And the intensity of Zionism is far stronger than its American counterpart.  In the states, Zionism is primarily a financial commitment.  In Buenos Aires and Uruguay it is a cultural, linguistic and aliya commitment.  In fact, many of the educational institutions receive financial support from the Jewish Agency in Israel. 

The new secular humanistic Jewish associations that have emerged are a reflection of this nationalistic commitment.  In the face of growing Orthodoxy and Conservatism, many secularists now want to develop a much more self-aware ideology, with the ceremonial and communal supports that make it real.  Their humanistic Judaism is cosmopolitan, but it is also very Zionistic-with many of its members speaking Hebrew.  Some remnants of anti-Zionist Yiddishist socialist nationalism survive.  But they are dying out. 

Stimulated by their awareness of the establishment of Humanist (sic) Judaism in North America and Israel local leaders organized communities in Montevideo and Buenos Aires three years ago.  The leadership in Argentina consisted of academicians like Gregorio Klimovsky, Yiddishists like Gregorio Lerner and Eliyahu Toker, and Zionists like Paul Warshawsky and Daniel Colodenco.  The leadership in Uruguay featured two devoted and talented men-psychoanalyst Leopoldo Mueller and the journalist Egon Friedler. 

Both associations are in early stages of development.  And, like all other Jews, they are contending with the recurring political and economic woes that plague the area. But there is a strong determination to reach out to the largely secularized Jewish communities to mobilize more people. 

Right now their strategy for survival and growth include four priorities: 

1.The publication of a semi-annual or quarterly journal called Judaismo Laico, which can be used to diffuse humanistic Jewish ideas through Latin America. 

2. The development of ceremonial materials in Spanish and Hebrew to provide for personal and communal celebrations of holidays and life-cycle events in a secular way. 

3. Recruiting one or two qualified people who can be trained as madrikhim (teacher leaders) by the International Institute in Jerusalem to serve the education, counseling and ceremonial needs of the members of the associations. 

4. Organizing a Latin American regional association-including the two communities of Argentina and Uruguay-which could reach out to sympathetic people in other Latin American countries. Initially the journal would serve as its major vehicle for outreach. 

The future of Humanistic Judaism in Latin America will depend on many factors, some unpredictable. But if the enthusiasm of its founders is significant, its survival and growth are off to a good start.  

Argentina and Peronism

The Jewish Humanist, February 1997

I loved Evita. I loved the musical. I loved the movie. And, I thought that Madonna was an extraordinary Eva Peron.

But seeing Evita made me reflect on the politics of the modern world. After all, the fascism of the Perons was a unique fascism, an alliance between the army and the labor unions. Historically, in most conservative countries, the army allies itself with the clergy and the upper classes. But not in Argentina under Peron. As we can tell from the frustrated oligarchy in the Webber musical, singing in their upper class accents, the old ruling class were not happy with the Perons. Eva hated them. She was happiest when she was mesmerizing the descamisados, her shirtless workers.

Fascism is on the Right. But it is not conservative. It is a radical response to the traumas of modern capitalism. Unlike Communism which glorifies the industrial worker and the international working class, fascism glorifies the peasant, the soldier and the patriot. The soldier, in particular, is the hero of fascist intellectuals. The soldier is also peasant and patriot. In a capitalistic world he is seen as the victim of the masters of money, the corrupt politicians of democracy and the effete and indifferent upper classes. His rescue can only be effected by a soldier of honor, a leader who embodies the will of the people, a hero who will turn the whole nation into an army of virtue and mutual support.

Both Hitler and Mussolini hated the upper classes. They played to the lower classes, to their sense of victimization in a cruel capitalistic world, to their hatred of urban life, to their fear of foreigners, to their yearning for self-esteem through military glory. Both Hitler and Mussolini were veterans of the First World War. Their first followers were lower class unemployed veterans, filled with hatred of the rich and the privileged, and open to any conspiracy theory that featured foreigners and Jews. The gauleiters of the Nazi Party were not aristocrats. They despised aristocrats. They preferred German leaders who talked like Huey Long, George Wallace and Pat Buchanan. Unlike the old conservative ideologies of pedigree and property, fascism had the power to mobilize the masses.

But neither Hitler or Mussolini succeeded in winning over the leaders of industrial labor. The urban workers voted against fascism. In the end, both dictators were forced to make alliances with the aristocrats they despised. It was the Perons, in the very hour when the forces of fascism experienced their terrible defeat in both Europe and Asia, who succeeded in making an alliance between the army and the labor unions. Behind the songs and biography of Evita lies an extraordinary and frightening political development.

Argentina had become a rich country by the beginning of the twentieth century. British investment, the invention of refrigeration and the European demand for Argentine beef and wheat produced enormous wealth. But this wealth was very unevenly distributed.

A small number of landed aristocrats controlled most of it. They indulged themselves with excessive luxury and monopolized all positions of political power. Needing workers for their economic empire, they imported large numbers of Spanish and Italian immigrants who transformed the port city of Buenos Aires into one of the great metropolitan centers of the world. Many of these immigrants created a new middle class who struggled with the aristocrats for political control. For a short time in the 1920’s the middle class prevailed. But most of the peasants and urban workers remained excluded, oppressed and ignored. They were the ‘losers’ of an emerging modern economy.

The key to the success of Juan and Eva was that they spoke to the ‘losers’ in a language that the lower classes could understand – language of paternal and maternal love, a language of patriotism and lower class resentment. The turn-off language of intellectual socialism and sophisticated atheism never burdened their communication. The lower classes did not want democracy. They wanted jobs, recognition and revenge. Eva understood them. That is why in poor neighborhoods in Argentina she is still remembered as ‘Santa Evita’.

In time, without Eva, the Peron regime collapsed from its own economic mismanagement. The upper and middle classes rejoiced. The army returned to its traditional alliance with the rich and the clergy. But the new government, including the present one (which is ironically Peronist without any of the programs of Peron) had not found the solution to the problem of the unhappy ‘losers’, the workers that modern capitalism so easily displaces.

Evita makes you think. In an America where so many workers are discovering that their standard of living is falling, that their jobs are disappearing to automation or to foreign competition, where foreigners abound in ethnically, mixed cities and where the separation between the winners and ‘losers’ is growing wider – is it possible that disgruntled labor could make an alliance with undemocratic politicians and soldiers in an outburst of impulsive resentment. L think not. But Evita makes me think of the danger of a world where the winners indulge their right to self-absorption and where the ‘losers’ are cast aside, alienated from the economic game, and consumed by envy and anger.

The problem of Evita will not go away.

A Visit to South America

The Jewish Humanist, October 1989

 

This summer I was in Argentina. I was in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. An adventure on the Amazon lured me. The ever-present political turmoil intrigued me. And the presence of two Humanistic Jewish communities in Montevideo and Buenos Aires aroused my missionary instincts.

The most troubled country I visited was Argentina. I had been there before, just after a military junta had overthrown Isabel Peron in a swift coup. Now I returned to the same nation immediately after the election of Saul Menem, a loyal disciple of Isabel’s husband, to the presidency of the republic. This election, took place amid the worst financial crisis the Argentine people have ever experienced. Rioting and the looting of stores had preceded my arrival.

I did not know what I would find when I took the hydrofoil from Uruguay to Buenos Aires on a cold rainy windy winter’s day. Would “the Big Apple” still be the exciting splendid city I still remembered? Would there be violence in the streets? Would the military allow a follower of Juan Peron to be the leader of the nation? Was the Jewish community safe or in danger?

My boat trip allowed me to reflect on the causes of the present Argentine distress. Once viewed as the wealthy land of cattle barons and gauchos, Argentina was now sinking, through economic distress, into the status of a third World country. And the cause of her problem was none other than the most charismatic leader of her history – Juan Peron.

When Peron came to power in 1946, he decided to maintain his power through the promotion of a political ideology which was half-fascist and half-socialist. The foundation of his power was a unique alliance between the military and the labor unions (“the shirtless ones”). This bonding was accompanied by an extreme nationalism which sought to dislodge all foreign control of the Argentine economy. It was reinforced by the personal skill of Evita, Peron’s wife, and the new welfare system which she promoted. Banks and basic industries were nationalized. Foreign investors, especially the British were driven out. New factories were built with state money and state control. Hundreds of thousands of farm workers left the pampas to find their fortunes in the new, jobs in the cities. The standard of living rose, especially for the working class, and especially for the friends of Peron.

So long as a devastated Europe provided a market for Argentine manufactured goods – as well as the more traditional meat and wheat – Peron was secure. Bu when Europe revived the easy markets disappeared. Exports dropped. But imports did not drop. The price of political power was that Peron could no reduce his subsidies to his labor allies. The imbalance grew, aggravated by the inefficiency and corruption of state industries. Inflation followed – at first slow, and then devastating. Even after the fall of Peron the military governments that followed could not reverse the devastation. The last military government, much addicted to terror and a sadistic fear of suspected leftists and liberals, made everything worse through a new free trade policy which bankrupted whatever private industry still survived. After years of protection, the fresh air of competition was lethal. Only borrowing money from America seemed to be the answer to these problems. The debt rose astronomically. And the economy collapsed.

When I arrived in Buenos Aires, the city was much shabbier than I remembered it. The grandeur of a city that had tried desperately to be like Paris was still there. But it was faded and was in need of repair. There is no money to fix anything. Potholes fill the streets. And all construction has stopped. Nothing is being built. The country is at an economic standstill. The currency is worthless. In February, 17 Argentine australes bought you one American dollar. In July, it took 700 australes to do the same work. Inflation is somewhere around 12,000% per annum right now. It is so bad that prices are never posted, credit cards are never accepted and banks pay 1,000% interest on short-run deposits. Middle-class people with fixed incomes are sinking into poverty. Working-class people have no money to buy food or clothing. Only the rich, with easy access to American dollars, seem to be weathering the storm. An underground economy of illegal transactions is thriving.

Right now, in most neighborhoods, the people are too exhausted and stunned to rebel. They are also waiting to see what the new government is going to do. Desperation breeds hope.

The government is the first democratically elected regime in sixty -years to follow another democratically -elected regime a major achievement in itself. For the past six years after the disastrous Falklands War unseated the military junta, the Radical Party – and their leader, Raul Alfonsin – tried valiantly to reverse the legacy of Peron and the military. But they failed. They did succeed in punishing many of the military murderers of innocent victims, including prominent generals who now linger in jail. Yet, they could not rescue the economy. Foreign investors shunned them. And state industries resisted their reforms.

Now the Peronists are back in power. The military detest them as much as they detest the Radicals. But they do not want to be responsible for the economy. They would prefer to -wait and see -what happens.

Menem, the new president, is an enigma. He is an Arab Muslim who converted to Catholicism so that he could be both a politician and president in a Catholic country. He was a mediocre governor of a poverty-stricken province and was famous for womanizing and public spats with his volatile wife. But he is a sportsman and a demagogue, with the oratorical power to reach the masses that Peron did. His campaign slogans were hardly suggestive of a rational approach to the economic disaster.

But he has surprised everybody. His amnesty for army officers still awaiting prosecution was predictable – as well as his proposal to pardon convicted generals. Even though he was jailed by the junta, he needs to appease the army and his constituency will not object. Yet his economic proposals are a total repudiation of the Peronist legacy. He has called for the privatization of state industries. This revolutionary proposal would mean the sale of Argentine industry to foreign investors. Peron must be turning over in his grave!

Privatization means foreign investment and foreign control. It is a slap in the face to all the Argentine chauvinists who supported self-sufficiency and the anti-British war. But there is no alternative. Without foreign money the Argentine economy cannot be made productive. Menem took a bold step that even his more liberal predecessor was afraid to take. Sometimes radical action is only tolerated in leaders who are seen as impeccably conservative and patriotic.

Amid this economic mess the Jews of Argentina are managing to survive. With 300,000 in the nation and 250,000 in Buenos Aires, they are primarily a capital city phenomenon. Some are rich. Most are middle-class and professional. Some are poor. Almost all of them were opposed to the Peronists and supported Alfonsin and the Radical Party. They viewed the Menem victory with great apprehension. Visions of new repressions, anti-Semitic outbursts and economic chaos were part of their anxiety.

Right now they are less afraid than they were. Given the number of Jewish victims of junta murders, the proposed amnesty is disturbing. But some Jews realize that the amnesty may be the price that needs to be paid to keep the army from taking over. The economic proposals of Menem are heartening and welcome. Like the rest of the middle-class they are waiting to see whether these reforms will indeed be realized.

Many Jews, like other Argentinians, have lost faith in the possibility that the legacy of Peron can be reversed. They want to leave. But where can they go?

Europe is now the favorite possibility. Since most Argentinians are of Spanish and Italian descent, they hope to find easy access to the new European Economic Community through a return to the lands of their ancestors. It is ironic that the great-grandchildren of the peasants who fled Spain and Italy because of poverty now want to go back to their homelands because they see those countries as richer than Argentina.

While Europe is a strong option for Jews, both North America and Israel have great appeal – the United States for economic reasons, Israel for ethnic and cultural reasons.

There is a significant Aliyah to Israel. Most of Argentine Jewry is overwhelmingly secular and Zionistic. The synagogue is a minor institution compared to the independent day schools and private community centers which dominate Jewish community life. The two biggest Jewish institutions in Buenos Aires are Club Hebraica and Club Hakvakh. They are unique to Argentina and other Latin American countries. They are a cross between a country club, a cultural center and a school. Religion is almost nonexistent in their programming. Zionism and Hebrew are dominant. In the more hostile environment of Argentina, Israel is more than a romantic attachment. It is a real alternative.

Despite the barriers of Catholic culture, assimilation is widespread and intermarriage is growing. Feeding on the fears of Argentine Jewry for its future are the newly arrived emissaries of ultra-Orthodoxy who offer themselves as the only guarantee of Jewish survival. Their influence is increasing, despite the secular orientation of most Argentinian Jews.

Humanistic Jews in Argentina now have their own association with their own magazine. Their president is Gregorio Klimovsky, a world-renowned professor of philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires. Many distinguished writers and posts have also joined the movement.

Their task is clear. While most Argentine Jews are secular, they are not self-consciously or positively secular. They simply see themselves as not religious. This negative posture makes them vulnerable to all the new conservative religious governments that provide a positive affirmation of Jewish identity. The job of the Association is to offer self-awareness to secular Jews and to give them humanistic ways to express their Jewish commitment. Certainly, the Zionist and Yiddishist heritage of Argentine Jewry can reinforce that task.

Despite the economic distress, I was inspired by my contact with our soul brothers and sisters in Argentina. They are eager for contact and sharing. And I assured them that we in North America are eager too.

The future of the Association will depend on the future of Argentine Jewry. And the future of Argentine Jewry will depend on the future of Argentina.

Can the economic disaster be reversed? Right now hope is the best policy available.