October 11, 2004

I never left my village


The movie Legado, a documental story about the Jewish colonization in Argentina that will be exhibited next 14th of October, includes a scene in which someone asks me: ”Tenembaum, you have already traveled the world on many occasions, and however, you permanently remember your place of origin, Las Palmeras, mentioning it each time you can. When did you leave your village?”.

My answer was precise: ”I never left my village.”

I believe that with these words I synthesize all my feelings about my origin. Not only I feel I never left my town, by the contrary, I take it with me, deep inside me.

In the province of Santa Fe, on the occasion of Las Palmeras century, they say a commemorative edition will be launched out. Editors wish to register memories of the small colony located 15 kilometers of Moisesville. To me, instead, talking about Las Palmeras is not only about memories; it’s more about living memories. The present has it’s roots in the past, and much of what had happened sixty, fifty, or forty years ago, it mixtures with past and further events. .

When I was five years old, I used to live with my parents and brothers in our usual home, that by the way, it still has its front intact. My parents, Jews immigrants that got to Argentina at the beginning of the 20th century, they used to have a store-pub in a field of an eighteen hectares farm.
I was too naughty, with certain abilities to climb trees, horse riding, playing balls, boleadoras, getting into the shed where alfalfa bales were stored, and reaching the pigeons nests. Also I was good at climbing brick walls and covering up my fall downs when happened. When my father found me naughty he used to give me ”active massage”, I remember it hurted. Even though, with time I could develop an antidote against that home therapy. When I felt punishment was coming, immediately I climbed a tree whose branches went all the way to my home’s roof, and I was not going down until my father would have promised that he was not going to hit me. His word was holy.

Since my dynamic behavior and propensity towards accidents, my mother used to live concerned about me, fearing something terrible might happen.
One torrid summer, like most Santa Fe’s summers, the town school director went by my home, and after seeing my mother so worried he asked her what was going on.

”Dear director, this boy is making me crazy, there’s no way to control him.”, she said.
Smart in finding a solution, the director proposed: ”Well, madam, send him to school, get him a dust-cover and that’s it. I’ll take care of him.”
”But he is just a kid, he’s only five.”
”It doesn’t matter, he can be a casual visitor. Just bring him.”

The director’s name was Piccione and my schoolteacher until fifth grade was Misses Jacinta Vulfson Kancepolsky. In sixth grade, I had Bobio, brother of the accordion player -I believe- from Colonia Bosi.

And that’s how the casual visitor finished Primary School being ten years and a half old, ready to start high school.

Then, with less than eleven years old, I was sent to Buenos Aires. My father traveled with me up to Palacios, a neighbor colony where there was a train station. That trip is stacked on my mind because it was synonym of taking off, of restarting.

Future was in Buenos Aires, but the price I paid was very high. It was about leaving a little town of grass-hoppers, boleadoras, pubs, plows and alfalfa smell to the big city of underground trains, trams, electric energy, fountain pens, never ending streets and the always new.

Train whistled and started moving. Behind was Palacios, together with my father, who greeted with his extended arm from the platform. For me on board in that old train, it was all pain. It was the starting of a new life.

The one who doesn’t remembers it’s hometown denies his roots, he’s a memory orphan. I had the grace to practice coexistence and to pick up the love from gauchos and homeless in a poor scene, but also respect and dignity. I bless today the opportunity that Argentina gave to our grandfathers.

The author is founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.
Translation by: Enrique Borst.