Moises Ville, Argentina
Moises Ville's Jewish gauchos are tough and clever. They have always had to be, in order to flourish on Argentina's harsh plains, thousands of miles from the European communities they fled. Perhaps this is why the formerly-Jewish town of Moises Ville, a 10-hour bus ride north-west from Buenos Aires into the Pampas, is better positioned than most communities in Argentina to survive the country's current economic and political crisis.
"Here, we are used to making the best of bad situations," says Golde Kuperstein de Gerson, Moises Ville's deputy mayor and the chair of the Baron Hirsch Hospital Board. Golde beams like a yiddishe grandmother recalling the ingenuity of the town's founders: "They brought nothing when they came in 1889 and established the Town of Moses, Moises Ville. By 1891, they already had the basis of the community institutions that are the pride and joy of Moises Ville until today." Golde explains that through the 1940s, Moises Ville had 7,000 residents, 95 percent of whom were Jewish. Today, the town is much smaller and less than 15 percent Jewish, about 300 of 2,700 residents. "But the Jewish spirit survives in our institutions," Golde insists.
Most of these institutions are named for Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a German Jewish banker, who in 1891 purchased 600,000 hectares in the Argentine Pampas. Hirsch's Jewish Colonization Association resettled thousands of Eastern European Jewish refugees in Argentine agricultural communities, beginning with Moises Ville. Today the Baron Hirsch synagogue is the last functioning synagogue in Moises Ville.
Goldie's husband of 50 years, Hermann Gerson, is the synagogue's president and one of Moises Ville's remaining Jewish cowboys. The Baron Hirsch foundation rescued Hermann from the Nazis as a young man, establishing him in Moises Ville with a plot of land to work. But Hermann confides that he wanted to be an engineer. "My main concern as a rancher was to help my children to become professionals," he says.
Most other fathers felt the same. Moises Ville's Jewish population has declined sharply as children moved to the big cities for educational and professional opportunities and their parents followed them. Some, like rancher Kurt Rosenthal, disagree with Hermann. "The country is a passion," Kurt says. "If I had to choose again, I would do again what I've done for the last 47 years" -- work as a cowboy. Kurt is proud that his son, a certified accountant, will eventually leave his banking job and take over the ranching business. "The Baron Hirsch Foundation had as its objective demonstrating that Jews could work the land and my son will follow that tradition," Kurt says. "Only if we lose that, have we lost everything in Moises Ville."