For five months this year I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I slept in the house of a wig- wearing woman and her always-dressed-better-than-me dog, Sofia. I attended classes with Argentine estudiantes, and ate ice cream so often my mom thought I was dating the heladería, Freddo. I roller-bladed around the parks of Palermo and suffocated on the green line of the subte.
While studying abroad, I was initially the self-declared most religious foreigner in the city. As all my friends dug into their juicy meats, I screamed “kosher” with my strictly vegan broccoli salad. And if that was not unusual enough in the carnivorous country, I became the “token Jew” who could not communicate on Saturdays. “It’s the Jewish Sabbath,” I would explain. “I refrain from using all forms of technology, transportation, and modes of payment.” My friends thought I became Amish once I week.
But, all that was old news for me. Back home in college, I was the girl who begged anyone with the last names Weiss or Rosenblum to attend Hillel for Friday night dinner. I was the go to student for religious questions and the classic case of a “dietary restriction.” It only made sense that the same would be true in Buenos Aires.
Little did I know, I was in for a pleasant surprise.
While I may have been the most observant student in my American friend group in Argentina, among the locals, I fit right in. And no, I do not mean because my platform shoes were conveniently all the rage in the Paris of South America. But, somehow just one week into my adventure below the equator, I surprisingly found myself right at home. With a plate of food so immense that I could have trekked up it for a mountain top view of the city, I sat at a dining room table surrounded by my fellow tribe members. From a Facebook page accurately named “Jews Alone in Buenos Aires,” the Berim family had found and reached out to me to ensure I had the company they believed a complete stranger deserved.
“Why should anyone be alone?” they asked me, conveying a gregarious and hospitable nature unique to both Argentines and Jews. “You must come to us every week!” They begged me to stay the night, or at least join them for family fun day tomorrow. After a buenismo meal and hearty conversation, in which I showed off my high level vocabulary of “ja ja ja”s, I promised the two eldest Berim children that I would go out with them the following night, to celebrate the conclusion of Shabbat.
And so began the endless adventures with my fellow Jews. The Berim boys introduced me to their friends, who introduced me to their families. Before I knew it I was one of the clan. Walking on the Libertador Street, it wasn’t long before I could wave hi to just about every fifth person I passed. I became the famous American, who for some reason everyone in the community wanted to invite to their houses. Whether they wanted to learn English, find a date for their sons, or simply help out a newbie, the Jews of Buenos Aires looked out for me. From weekly Shabbats to the October filled holiday season, they always made sure I had a place to go and share the religion with. And when it came to the fiestas, well then too, they always invited me to boogie with them all noche long.
Being a part of the Jewish community in Argentina was a major highlight for me during my time studying abroad. Not only did I do the oh-so-cliché move of “meeting new people,” but I also continued observing my religion in a way I did not even know was possible in America, nonetheless in a country thousands of miles from my home state of New Jersey. Though I was not brought up kissing everyone I greet nor pronouncing Y sounds like they’re “SH,” I, nevertheless, was able to befriend these crazy Argentines and bond over our inherent love of challah and grape juice. By simply joining a Facebook group that embarrassingly pointed out how lonely I was in the Southern hemisphere, I ended up joining a community that followed me back home. Literally… I guess that’s what I get for inviting everyone I met back to my house near NYC.