Educating Young Sephardi Jews: The “Laica O Libre” Battles and Community Identity in Argentina, 1950s-1960s

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 12:00 PM
Madison Room (Marriott Wardman Park)
Adriana Mariel Brodsky, St. Mary's College of Maryland
In 1958, the Argentine government approved the creation of degree-granting private universities.  This decision resulted in a fierce battle waged by secondary school and university students who saw the adoption of this policy as the end of ‘free’ and ‘lay’ education in Argentina. The measure was clearly meant for the Catholic Church, and opponents feared that the new policy would allow ‘imperialist monopolies’ to run educational institutions.  Many Jewish students enrolled in public secondary schools and universities participated in this battle, and they learned powerful lessons that they carried into communal educational projects.  This paper will examine the ways in which young Sephardi Jews in Argentina came to challenge traditional communal education in light of their participation in the ‘laica o libre’ struggles.  By examining community minute records, newspapers articles produced by young Sephardim, and oral histories with participants in these youth groups, I contend that the introduction of Zionist ideology in these communal spaces – which aimed at shaping Jewish identity to increasingly identify with the new state of Israel and with Judaism in general - was informed by the politicization of the Argentine youth, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.  Jewish (Sephardi) communal identity, then, was not only the result of intra-community developments, but shaped in a broader discussion and debate with other Argentine youth and influenced by anti-government struggles in matters of education.
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