In the 1890s, Russian Jews fleeing anti-Semitic violence and discrimination arrived by the thousands to a remote corner of the Argentine Pampas. They founded hamlets similar to the shtetls they left behind. They spoke Yiddish, built synagogues and traditional Jewish schools — and became farmers and gauchos, the mythical Argentine cowboys.
Now, only a dwindling number of their descendants remain, but they’re intent on saving the Jewish culture that flourished for decades. In Entre Rios province, the center of Argentina’s rural Jewish communities, there are still gauchos, Hebrew lessons and sacred scrolls to be found.
Jaime Jruz is among those who consider keeping the old traditions alive a debt owed to those who first settled the region. He roams his ranch on horseback, rounding up cattle and keeping track of his goats. His farm, on the outskirts of Carmel, goes back more than a century.
It was bought on a payment plan by his grandfather, who had arrived in Argentina aboard the Bismarck, a ship carrying Jews seeking a new life in the New World. Now 65, Jruz says he has lost a step or two and is one of the last Jewish gauchos around.