Links for Moises Villenses in the Past, the Present and deep in their Heart

The Web Site of Moises Ville
Homepage of the Jewish Museum in Moisesville
Generaciones de Moises Ville: The Site of Mario Heifetz
Moises Ville represents for the Argentinean Jewry  both an actual settlement and a mythical place. Geographically speaking it's an agricultural colony situated in the North of the Province of Santa Fe, Argentina 616 km. from Buenos Aires, founded by a group of Russian Jewish colonists arriving in August 1889 aboard the SS Wesser from Kamenetz-Podolsk, Ukraine. Regarded as the first agricultural Jewish colony in South America, beating only by some months a smaller group coming from Bessarabia and bound to establish a neighbouring settlement called Monigotes, these 130 families (815 persons) are the Argentinean Jewry equivalent to the Mayflower passengers and whoever can prove his descendancy can brag being part of the Agricultural Pioneer Aristrocacy. It all started one day in 1887 when leaders of Jewish communities in Podolia and Bessarabia met in Katowice (Silesia, Poland) to seek a solution to their problems. They decided emigration to Palestine was the solution and choose a delegate, Eliezer Hauffmann, to travel to Paris, meet the Baron de Rotschild and ask for his support. Two theories exist on what happened next. Some say the negotiations with the Baron failed while others believe Kauffman wasn't able to obtain an audition with the aristocrat at all. Afraid of going back empty handed and learning that there was an official bureau of information of the Argentinean Republic, Kauffman decided to meet J. B. Frank, the officer in charge, and learned that a gentleman named Rafael Hernández was interested in selling lands to European immigrants. The land was in Nueva Plata, Province of Buenos Aires, near the city of La Plata. A contract was signed there and then and thus the 820 people represented by Kauffman, comprising 130 families (a number equivalent to half the Jewish population of Argentina at that time!)  began their trip to Argentina on board of the SS WESER.
They arrived to Buenos Aires on August 14, 1889 and learned right away that the lands they had acquired were not available. Since their agreement the price of the land had more than doubled, making it "inconvenient" for unscrupulous Hernández to fulfill the contract. Rabbi Henry Joseph, the leader of Argentinean Jewry, tried to save the day and he arranged for the newcomers to meet Pedro Palacios, the Jewish Community attorney, who happened to be the owner of vast lands in the Province of Santa Fe, right where the new railway line to Tucumán was being built. Palacios aggreed to sell the WESER passengers some land he owned. By late August contracts were signed and the immigrants were on their way. To their dismay the travel was bad and the place they arrived to even worse. The families were lodged in freight cars parked in a shed along the railway line. They expected to be transferred to their fields, get farm animals and agricultural appliances and materials (as established in the contract) but none of these happened. Railway workers distributed food among the hungry children but soon enough a typhus epidemic enhaced by poor hygiene, took the lives of 64 of them. In a very short time two cemeteries were build, one in Palacios and the other in Monigotes. Those cemeteries in the surroundings of Moises Ville founded the base of the Jewish community and bonded the Jewish immigrants to the Land: they made the families stay and not leave the deceased resting place unattended. Meantime, the national authorities, learning of the immigrants’ deplorable conditions, ordered an investigation by the General Immigration Commissioner. Luckily for the newcomers Dr Wilhelm Loewenthal, a Rumanian doctor from the University of Berlin, specializing in bacteriology, who had been hired in Paris by the Argentine government for a scientific mission and paralelly asked by the A.I.U. to keep an eye on the Weser immigrants, traveled to Palacios Train Station where he was astonished by the miserable living conditions of the immigrants. Inspite of their ordeal and diffilcuties the settlers still hoped to become farmers. He reported to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Estanislao Zeballos and simultaneously met Palacios requesting him to comply with his duties. Back in Paris, Loewenthal submitted a written project to Rabbi Zadoc Kahn for the agricultural colonization of Jewish families in Argentina by means of establishing a Colonizing Association and allocating each family a farm 50-100 hectars in size, at the cost of US$ 2000 per family. If it wern't because of these travelers abandoned in Palacios Station it's very probable that Baron Hirsch would neither have thought of sending more Jews to Argentina,  nor created the JCA. But as a result of the ordeal the 1891 Baron Hirsch Plan was born. 
Within the frame of the JCA’s program a further group of 42 families from the Province of Grodno arrived to Moises Ville between 1894 and 1895. The colonists settled in villages near to Moises Ville, named after the number of houses that formed them: "The Four Houses", "The Six Houses", "The Twelve Houses" and "The Twenty-four houses".  In 1900, the colonists requested the JCA to enlarge the colony and bring new groups from the Grodno area. The request was conveyed through the colonist Noe Cociovich who, in 1900, 1901 and 1902, carried out several trips to Russia and assembled three groups totaling 104 families that met the JCA demands: they already had relatives in the colony and they paid for their tickets themselves. The groups settled in the Wavelberg area, north of Moises Ville, which had been named for the philanthropist who helped finance the travel; in the Virginia area to the east, and in La Juanita to the west. In 1901, another group of 31 families organized in Bialystok (current Poland) arrived, led by the writer and Jewish leader Gdalia Bublik. The area in which this group settled is known as Línea Bialystok (Bialystok Line). Many of the colonists who settled in La Juanita and Bialystok later moved to the town of Las Palmeras. At the same time, a group of Rumanian families selected by the JCA arrived. This group settled in the area of Zadok Kahn, to the west of Moises Ville. It was named in honor of the above mentioned Chief Rabbi of Paris. Most of the colonists in that group that remained also eventually moved to Las Palmeras. Dr. Guillermo Lowenthal heard that plans were made to move the settlement  to two new locations in the Province of Entre Rios. The Moises Villenses refused: they did not want to leave the place were they were building already a third cemetery to bury the first victim of a native gauchos' attack. At the meting in the synagogue, they decided to stay and bring to Moises Ville the children they had buried in Monigotes and Palacios. In 1903, soon after the Kishinev pogrom, an additional group from Bessarabia was organized. This group settled in the Mutchnik area, northwest of Moises Ville, in the so called Línea Ortiz (Ortiz Line). And in 1905, a group from Kherson, Ukraine, colonized the area of Monigotes. Several years later the zone of Capivara, to the northeast of Moises Ville, was colonized, In the decade of the 1930's German Jews persecuted by the Nazis began to arrive, in a wave that lasted until the beginning of World War II. After the war was over, several families of Dutch and German refugees arrived. Most of them were sent by the JCA.
Colonists of the first group and some from the second settled in the surrounding areas of a budding urban center. As Noe Cociovich related, that center had three shaky buildings in 1894: the synagogue, the JCA administration house and the public baths. The colonists' houses were arranged around them along three streets. The plots were 100 meters wide and 1,000 meters deep.

Moises Ville
An article
published originaly in Latino Links, New York Times News Service, April 30, 1996 by Calvin Sims.©
There are four synagogues in this remote farming town of 2,000 residents. The bakery sells Sabbath bread and cookies. Many buildings have Hebrew lettering and the Star of David on their facades. And children playing in the street use Yiddish words like "shlep'' and "shlock''. But there are only about 300 Jewish residents left in Moises Ville, an agricultural community founded by European Jews who came to Argentina a century ago, fleeing pogroms and other persecution in their homeland.  While Jews once accounted for 90 percent of the population of Moises Ville, they now represent 15 percent and are rapidly declining, as most left the pampas decades ago seeking education and fortune in Argentina's big cities.
"This is one of the few places in the world where Jewish culture has remained dominant despite the fact that we are a small minority of the residents,'' said Ava Rosenthal, director of the town's museum. "No matter where you go in Moises Ville, it is very evident who was here first.''
Moises Ville, in fertile Santa Fe Province, was the birthplace of a new breed of Argentine cowboy, the Jewish gauchos, who introduced new crops and started the country's first agrarian cooperatives. Jewish immigrants learned to ride, herd cattle, shoot and shelter themselves against the elements. They also maintained their own customs, building synagogues, libraries and cultural centers, including a Yiddish theater where groups from Europe and the United States performed.
Today, few if any Jewish gauchos ride the range, and most of the land surrounding Moises Ville and other Argentine Jewish communities has been sold to non-Jews, and gentiles do the farming on land still owned by Jews. But nowhere is the legacy of the Jewish gaucho so deeply entrenched as it is in Moises Ville, which still shuts down for Jewish holidays even though few residents celebrate them. The library is filled with volumes in Yiddish and Hebrew, and some elderly non-Jewish residents still remember prayers and blessings they learned as youths.
"Years after the last Jewish resident dies, the people of Moises Ville will still be eating gefilte fish and taking Yom Kippur as a holiday,'' said Pablo Trumper, 76, a retired schoolteacher whose grandfather was one of the original Jewish settlers.
Omar del Beno, Moises Ville's first non-Jewish mayor, said that although most residents are Roman Catholic, like the majority of Argentines, the town observes many Jewish cultural traditions because "they are what we grew up with and have become accustomed to.'' "We are such a close-knit community that people here don't even think about what's Jewish and what isn't,'' del Beno said. "We just live''. While Argentina is well known for having opened its doors to Nazis after World War II, at the turn of the century it welcomed large numbers of Jews, who formed colonies like Moises Ville in the interior of Argentina. Moises Ville was founded in 1889 by Russian Jews who were fleeing the pograms. With the help of a French philanthropist, the Jewish colonists bought land in Santa Fe Province and named their new settlement "town of Moses.''
Ana Weinstein, director of the Mark Turkow Center for Information and Documentation of Argentine Judaism, based in Buenos Aires, said that while gauchos taught the Jewish colonists how to survive in the wild and how to work the land, the settlers in turn introduced new crops like rice and sunflowers and Argentina's first farming cooperatives.
"Jews who founded Moises Ville and other agrarian colonies came from Russia and brought with them progressive socialist ideas that led them to establish agrarian cooperatives,'' Mrs. Weinstein said. "These were different from the Israeli kibbutz because here people didn't share the earnings of production in equal parts''. Instead, the colonists pooled their resources to buy seed and tools or to sell grain or cattle. But individuals earned according to their production, Mrs. Weinstein said.
Moises Ville's cooperative caught the attention of neighboring communities. In the Moises Ville museum, there are letters from nearby towns seeking information about the cooperative.
Today, Argentina has some 300,000 Jews, the largest population in Latin America. In recent years, after the bombing of Israeli Embassy and a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, many Argentine Jews have started making annual pilgrimages to Moises Ville to celebrate their roots.
"Coming here is like going to Israel except it's a lot less expensive and much closer to home,'' said Pablo Barenboim, a pharmaceutical salesman, who drove seven hours from Buenos Aires to visit the town's museum and historic buildings. "I feel renewed and will definitely come back''. Martha Levisman de Clusellas, a renowned architect whose grandparents were among the founders of Moises Ville, said the town has always provided her with a sense of relief and comfort from Argentina's big cities, where she said there is anti-Semitism.
"For me Moises Ville is a place where I go to heal myself,'' she said. "It's like a treasure chest that once opened is unending because there is a part of us all in there''. But as Moises Ville's Jewish population dwindles, many worry that the traditions will not be maintained. Dr. Juan Kazneietz, director of the hospital, said that most Jewish residents are over 50 and that there is about one Jewish birth in Moises Ville only every three or four months. "Demographics are not on our side,'' Kazneietz said.
Indeed, only one of the town's four synagogues is open, and it has not had a full-time rabbi for years. Weekly services are often postponed because there is no quorum. The cemetery, which cannot be entered without the head covered in the Jewish tradition, has 5,000 graves. Students at the Jewish seminary say that while they feel pride being from Argentina's first Jewish settlement, they can't wait to graduate so they can go to college in bigger cities. "We've been taught all our lives that education is important and that we have to become professionals, but what opportunities are there here for us,'' said Diego Kanzepolsk, 17. Fanny Trumper, 92, who was born in Moises Ville, said she remembers a town "100 percent free'' of the anti-Semitism that she said exists in major cities of Argentina.  "It was a beautiful experience growing up in a community where everyone was Jewish, the doctor, the lawyer, the mayor, and no one looked down on us because we were different,'' Mrs. Trumper said. "This is the most important place for Jews in Argentina, and we need to preserve it because it is the only one made entirely with Jewish hands.''


In the land of the Jewish Gauchos
The town of Moisés Ville, in the province of Santa Fe, is a real touristic atraction
The Traditions of the early colonists
by Vanina Sylvestre
An article published in Argentina's daily Clarin on  27.05.2007

Moisés Ville, in the province of Santa Fe, is different from any other Argentinean town. It's history and special cultural blend surprises the visitor at every step by the originality of it's sites. Strolling you are amazed by the many hebrew signs as well as the names of it's streets: Barón Hirsch, Teodoro Hertzl, Guillermo Loewental, Noé Cociovitch. The perplexity rises as you reach the plaza (main square): in vain you'll search for the Church standing aside or across the Town Hall and the School. And if you stroll by car you discover another peculiarity: traffic is from right to left, i.e. the same direction you read and write Hebrew or Yidisch.


The craddle of the so called Jewish Gauchos (Gauchos Judíos), the european immigrants that settled the land with a dream of becaming farmers,  Moisés Ville has been declared National Historic Settlement (Poblado Histórico Nacional) in 1999, and is frequently visited by those wishing to get acquainted with their roots, many coming from Europe, the USA or Israel. The huge flow of visitors made the Torist Secretary of the Nation (Secretaría de Turismo de la Nación) create Shalom Argentina. "Huellas de la colonización judía" (Footsteps of the Jewish Colonization), a program of cultural tourism about the Jewish Agricultural Colonies of whivh Moisés Ville is the "mother of them all". In this frame the Tourist Commitee of the town organized a circuit in which in two days a visitor can get acquainted with the pioneer spirit.

The books and the weather

After a delicious breakfast with kamish and strudel, two of the famous specialities of "La Central", the old bakery in the town, the guided visit starts at the Kadima Society Theatre (Kadima means forward in hebrew), a key location for the community. This Cultural Association and Library was founded in 1909 and has an hall with remarcable visual and acoustic qualities as well as a nice facade were grecoroman motives live side by side with hebrew characters. Two marble staircases lead to the top floor were the ancient Library of the town keeps the most valuable texts, brought by the Founding fathers, in hebrew, yidisch and russiany ruso. Today the theatre houses a choir and the amateur theatrical ensemble "Grupo Tiempo", playing nowadays  "Venecia". The tour continues through the Hebrew School Iahaduth, where the first Hebrew Teachers Seminar in Argentina was held. Near by is the House of the Student that used to boards the students from all over the country. Today iti siused for touristic purposes to lodge large groups in a Hostal manner.

The Museum and the Tasting

The comunal Historic Museum dedicated to the history of Jewish Colonization and named after Rabbi Aarón Halevi Goldman is perhaps the principal atraction for visitors of Moisés Ville. The tour is lead by the guides who have a vast knowledge of the Town's history. The Museum holds a valuable treasury divided into five halls: the first one recreates Europe in the late XIX andearly XX centuries with objects that give testimony to the painfull persecution suffered then, as witnessed by a German ID with a Swastika and a red "J", identifying the bearer as Jew. The second sector is dedicated to the evolvement of thetown's immigration. The third is dedicated to the proliphic activities of the local institutions. The last two halls hold an important collection of agricultural tools and objects usd since it's foundation.

After some hours on the road the stomach cries loudly for lunch. The typical dishes like potato knishes, guefilte fish (boiled grinded fish with onion) and varenikes (filled dough apetizers) are sought out by visitors and can be tasted in "Jane Comidas Típicas", a simple restaurant with home made dishes prepared by true bobes (abuelas). The more classic might be tempted by a suculent asado in the Sporting Club in town.

The Gauchos synagogues

The synagogues are another atraction of the village. With a population of 2.700 habitants, Moisés Ville had at it's peak four temples: The Barón Hirsch or  "Temple of the Rich", The Ashkenazí, the "Workers" Synagogue and the Brenner.This last one has been declared National Historic Monument and is the only one that keeps it's original characteristics. Built in 1905, in it's interior is the wood carved Holy Ark (Arón Hakodesh) were the Holy Torah Scrolls are kept and an impressive bronze chandelier, once belonging to the first Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires Opera House)(1). The Barón Hirsch Synagogue was the first one in the town and today is the only one open for service. Although in structure it has been modified several times it still keeps the first Torah Scroll, brought from Russia in the last Century.

The last part of the visit is towards the oldest Jewish Cemetery in the country, declared an Historic National Monument as well. It has tombstonesof great symbolic and artistic value, in particular those from late XIX century with their peculiar rounded form. Here lies the spiritual lider of the founding group, Rabbi Aarón Halevi Goldman.

After the visit it's time for the Nature: Moisés Ville has vast fields. Some neighbours open the doors of their premises for rural activities like horse riding and cattle nilking. Moisés Ville becames then an option for cultural tourism that lets you get nearer to the roots, valorate the diversity y stroll the land of the proud Jewish gauchos.
(1) Unfortunately the Brenner Synagogue is closed to the public and in danger of tumbling down. It has been declared a World Heritage Endagered Monument (see here). The World Heritage site says the synagogue was builtin 1909 and although officially named in honour of Marcos Sterman in recognition for his donation of the land it stands on, it has come to be known locally as the Brenner after Samuel Brenner who oversaw it's construction and decoration. The Beema (podium) was designed according to an XVII century style popular in Poland. The above mentioned bronze lamp is decorated with masks representing Comedy and Tragedy - a violation of the prohibition against images in a Jewish Temple. The physical situation of the synagogue is bad: walls are cracked, the facade suffered material loss, the exterior requires comprehensive restoration , the water infiltration problem need urgent solution and mural paintings massive restoration.
To see photographs of the presenr situation double click the pictures