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’t 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 – 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’t deny. he, then, miraculously managed to buy an avocado. which he gave to his wife: “here’s your avocado. eat.” the only problem was that the lady didn’t know how to eat an avocado. so she ate the whole fruit, skin and all (don’t ask me about the seed; i think that she couldn’t 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 a gaucho. 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’t know how to eat a banana – and he couldn’t ask, because he didn’t speak any portuguese (and the man, of course, didn’t speak yidish). but he peeled the banana and discovered something that, for him, was the seed of the fruit, which he threw away – 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 – marranos – 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 são 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…and we also have a jewish-latin

american literature, represented by very important authors, who have many things in common. it is the merit of ilan stavans, critic, professor and a talented writer himself, to have assembled this collection of short stories, the first one published in english. the authors are divided according to the countries they come from. they are very well known: alberto gerchunoff, mario goloboff, mario szichman, clarice lispector; margo glantz, esther seligson, ilan stavans himself. jorge luis borges, who wasn’t a jew, but was fascinated by judaism and wrote stories about jewish characters, is also present. these writers tells us about jews in argentina, in brazil, in mexico, in peru, in venezuela. the themes are sometimes very different. gerchunoff speaks about “los gauchos judíos”, jews that ride horses and sip mate. clarice lispector, on the other hand, doesn’t speak directly about jews; she’s considered a magnificent interpreter of the feminine condition. but in her stories we can find that humor so typically jewish, the humor of scholem aleichem. which comes as no surprise; nothing is closer to the shtetl that the once, or bom retiro, or bom fim, the jewish neighboroods of big cities in latin america. as ilan stavans points out in the introduction, there are affinities among jewish – latin american authors and writers like saul bellow, philip roth, franz kafka, bruno schulz, isaac babel. different languages, one common historical, sociological and psychological background. tropical synagogues is a landmark in jewish literature. it revealed, to many readers, the life of jews in latin america, as seen by their writers. it is a different jewish life; it is a different literature. and it opened the way for other books; the university of new mexico press began a series called "jewish latin america" and other publishing houses began to publish latin american writers. for ilan stavans it is a personal triumph; for five years he searched for someone to publish the anthology. finally he succeded. it is his first book published in the united states and it revealed, to the american public a talented young writer and critic. today we can speak about jewish-latin american studies in many universities of the usa. for all these reason the tenth aniversary of tropical synagogues is a celebration for the jewish culture in the latin america and in the world.

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