Baruch Tenembaum
A Jewish "Gaucho" on the road of fraternity



- CONFIRMADO WEEKLY January, 1967. Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Spanish to English Translation

Religion Section

"The Medal of the New Ecumenism"

Ten days ago, at the Metropolitan Headquarters of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Antonio Caggiano presented a medal of merit to the Director of the National Israeli Tourism Office in Buenos Aires, Mr. Baruch Tenembaum. This is the first instance in twenty centuries that a Jew received an official distinction from the Catholic hierarchy.

The date chosen for this event has special significance as well: the day marked three years since Pope Paul VI slowly disembarked his plane on Israeli soil thus marking the Church's new attitude towards the other monotheistic religions that was initiated during the papacy of John XXIII.

Nonetheless, in the days before the Pope's arrival, a dozen Argentine Catholic priests and Protestant pastors traveled throughout the holy sights in Israel. That first pilgrimage, brought about by the Israeli government and organized by Tenembaum, has not waned. Since then more than 3,000 non-Jewish Argentine pilgrims annually travel throughout Israel in excursions sponsored by the Tourism Office.

A while later, in Buenos Aires, Tenembaum began to promote an ambitious idea. He wanted to establish an "Argentine House" (Casa Argentina) in Israel. Hastily the initiative took shape and an executive board was created for the new organization headed by Monsignor Ernesto Segura, Secretary of the Argentine Episcopal.

The day after the award ceremony, the secretary general of Argentine House pointed out a very significant aspect of this distinction. "Tenembaum went beyond his expected functions: he took advantage of his position in order to develop a politics of rapprochement between the distinct communities and has shown a certain special capacity in dealing with them."

Tobias Kamenszain, President of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Society (AMIA), an organization that serves forty thousand Jewish families and employs 330 people, offered his community's point of view. "While for some time Jewish-Catholic contact has been had by seemingly isolated clerical groups and non-religious entities on both sides, Cardinal Caggiano's action is of utmost importance to us: he is inspiring and promoting new contacts at every level of the Catholic hierarchy."

During the speech delivered during the act, Caggiano signaled out that Tenembaum's efforts had converted the National Israeli Office of Tourism from the mere bureaucratic entity that it could have been to an authentic cultural home where people could live and convey feelings of spiritual uneasiness in an ideal environment of coexistence and collaboration. Tenembaum's response was as eulogizing as the cardinal's comment: "Maybe this relationship (between the Argentine Catholic Church and the Israeli Tourism Board) has been affected by my Jewish education: I was educated in an orthodox home, I left the religious seminar and I divulged in my professorship, the Old Testament. I feel profoundly Jewish and this house has distinguished and respected me as such."