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Preface Tropical Synagogues

Preface Tropical Synagogues

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03/18/2014

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my father had never seen a banana before he came to brazil. tropical fruits
were not common in bessarabia, the region of eastern europe where he was born and
where he lived until the age of six. in fact, fruits were an important part of the
brazilian dream which brought jewish immigrants across the ocean to a mythical
land. oranges! in bessarabia, oranges were so expensive, that families couldn\u2019t
afford to buy them. sometimes they had an orange for dessert; only one for the
whole family. since my father had eight brothers and sisters, there was not much of
an orange for each one of them. other fruits were equally the object of desire for the
jews in eastern europe. avocados, for example. i knew a lady in bom fim, the jewish
neighborood of porto alegre who longed for an avocado. a fruit, by the way, she had
never seen; but she knew that avocados were a delicacy that only rich people coud
afford. when the husband told her that both were going to brazil, the first thing that
came to her mind was that in brazil she would, at last, eat avocados; after all, that
was a tropical land, of oranges, bananas \u2013 certainly cheap avocados could be found
there. it was a long and difficult journey in a small ship; she was pregnant and kept
vomiting all the time. but she was comforted by the idea that, once in brazil, she
would have all the avocados she wished for. finally they arrived in porto alegre. still
at the harbour she told her husband she wanted to begin her new life eating an
avocado. a request that he, of course, couldn\u2019t deny. he, then, miraculously
managed to buy an avocado. which he gave to his wife: \u201chere\u2019s your avocado. eat.\u201d
the only problem was that the lady didn\u2019t know how to eat an avocado. so she ate the
whole fruit, skin and all (don\u2019t ask me about the seed; i think that she couldn\u2019t
swallow). is it really good?, asked the husband. not as good as i imagined, answered
the lady, but i will get used to it.

with my father a very similar thing happened. he was a child when he arrived
in porto alegre. at that time, many people went to the harbour to see the newcomers,
those strange european jews. among them was agaucho. now,gauchos are very
generous people, specially with strangers. the man saw that skinny boy, realized he
was hungry, and decided to offer him something to eat: a banana. as the lady of the
avocado, my father didn\u2019t know how to eat a banana \u2013 and he couldn\u2019t ask, because
he didn\u2019t speak any portuguese (and the man, of course, didn\u2019t speak yidish). but he
peeled the banana and discovered something that, for him, was the seed of the fruit,
which he threw away \u2013 and ate the rest, the peel.until his death, some years ago, he
swore to me that that was the best part of a banana.

the jewish experience in latin america is rich in stories like these. it is, by
now, a long experience; this year marks the first century of the jewish presence in rio
grande do sul, in the south of brazil (although jews \u2013 marranos \u2013 were among the
first settlers in brazil). this experience took place in different settings and at different
times. jews were, and still are, present in the jungle of the amazon region and in big
cities like buenos aires and s\u00e3o paulo. many of them, brought by the philanthropic
organization jewish colonization association settled in rural places in brazil and in
argentina. many of them were workers in the cities. now we find jews in medicine,
in journalism, in law, in politics, in business\u2026and we also have a jewish-latin

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