On anniversary, Argentine Jews salute service in the Falklands War

On anniversary, Argentine Jews salute service in the Falklands War

Patriotism and scars of anti-Semitism mark memories of 1982 battle over contested islands

Malvinas War Memorial in Buenos Aires, with permanent honor guard. (photo credit: public domain)
Malvinas War Memorial in Buenos Aires, with permanent honor guard. (photo credit: public domain)

Monday marked the 30-year anniversary of the start of the Falklands War, a conflict that remains a highly sensitive subject in British-Argentine relations.

For Argentina’s Jewish community, the anniversary has inspired a mix of emotions, which went on display over the weekend at a service honoring the country’s Jewish combatants. Nearly 700 people filled Buenos Aires’ Bet El synagogue for the special shabbat ceremony, which paid tribute to 13 Jewish veterans in attendance. The weekend’s two bar mitzva boys, joined by other young members of the congregation, presented a medal to each of the former soldiers, who were saluted in a sermon delivered by Rabbi Daniel Goldman. Local Jewish newspaper Iton Gadol reported that a respectful silence accompanied much of the ceremony, but that an emotional round of applause broke out as the veterans left the pulpit.

The war’s anniversary has offered a chance for Argentina’s minorities to express their patriotism. Last week, Guillermo Borger, the leader of Argentina’s Jewish community, attended the opening of a Buenos Aires art exhibit commemorating the war, remarking that “the Falklands have stopped being an Argentine cause, but have become a global cause.” Others at the opening included representatives of Argentina’s Muslim and Armenian communities, as well as officials from educational and financial institutions. Earlier this year, the country’s secretary of religious affairs thanked Argentina’s Jewish community on behalf of the government for “showing its desire for dialogue to resolve the dispute” with Great Britain.

While the anniversary has motivated expressions of national pride, it’s also led to a bit of soul-searching, as some Argentines recall the military dictatorship that ruled the country during the war. The status of the Jewish community at the time has also earned some attention, largely through the publication of “The Falklands Rabbis.” Written by journalist Hernan Dobry, the book notes contradictions within Argentina’s wartime military, which both routinely mistreated Jewish soldiers and, for the first time, appointed rabbis as chaplains. The book, which has received fairly widespread media coverage in Argentina, also looks at the uneasy condition of the broader Jewish community in the early ’80s, and makes use of the testimonies of 25 Jewish veterans. Amid a flood of articles released in conjunction with the anniversary, a summary of the book written by Dobry was singled out by the website of Spain’s El Pais newspaper as an especially worthwhile read.

England’s Jews, for their part, appear to have taken a lower-profile approach to commemorating the war, which began after Argentina occupied the nearby islands it continues to refer to as the Malvinas. That said, London’s Jewish Military Museum displays its own materials about the conflict, focusing on the contributions of Jewish soldiers to England’s efforts in the war.

Still a source of tension between the countries, the Falklands War proved an embarrassing defeat for Argentina, but left hundreds of soldiers dead on both sides.

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