June 6, 1966

Baruch Tenembaum and The Argentine House in Israel Interfaith-Interculture


His friends joke referring to him as ”the bishop”. He is 33 years old and is the first Latin American Jew to be received by the Pontiff of the Catholic Church: that occurred on the morning of January 13, 1965, when the Vatican invited Baruch Tenembaum, who had just completed organizing the Holy Land pilgrimage of Father Oglietti, Cascón y Vercovich from Argentina. The interview was long, almost one hour in length: Paul VI and Tenembaum cordially conversed in English, Hebrew, Italian, and Spanish. Later, the Vatican was to issue a stamp that would commemorate this meeting while Tenembaum would reduce the hours he was working for the Office of Tourism in order to embark on an ambitious project, almost unthinkable without the powerful influence of the Vatican Council’s ideas. It deals with the construction of an ”Argentina House” in Israel, a broadcaster of the culture, artistic and literary life of Argentina.

Monsignor Ernesto Segura, member of the Executive Board and President of the Consulting Board of Argentine House in Israel recently stated, ”Tenembaum was the first to have this idea, it was something that fortunately found fertile soil.” Christians, Jews, and adherents of other faiths have found in it a medium whereby they may express the ideas of brotherhood, the fraternal reencounter of people from different creeds, proposed by the Vatican II Council. The executive board of Argentine House presided by Miguel Podolsky, including Jorge Luis Borges, Luis Maria Boffi Boggero, member of the Supreme Court, Carlos Sanchez Viamonte, and Tenembaum himself, hope that the three buildings that will comprise the Argentine House in Israel will be inaugurated on July 9, 1967.

Confirmado: What will Argentine House in Israel consist of?

Baruch Tenembaum: There will be a building in Jerusalem, where with the help of the University of Jerusalem, we will promote the best expressions of Argentine culture. Another building will be in Nazareth: it will be a Catholic shrine, for the Argentine Catholics that will visit the Holy Land. Finally, the last building will be in the commercial center of Israel, Tel-Aviv, and it will be a focus point for tourists and students.

C: And what tasks will it have?

BT: We will feature a permanent exhibit of Argentine painters, concerts and conferences. We will open the first Spanish-language library. Mr. Podolsky has arranged scholarships from various institutions that will finance the studies of Argentine students there.

C: What did the Argentine-Jewish colony in Israel think of this idea?

BT: What would you like me to say? They took it with a large measure of surprise. Monsignor Segura just told me that many Catholic priests from the interior of the country (Argentina) have written to him offering their assistance. Don’t forget that the first associate of Argentine House in Israel is Monsignor Caggiano…although it isn’t only religious representatives that are involved. There are many Atheist Argentines that have begun to show support for the idea: they’re interested in the broadcasting of Argentine culture in a key spot in the Middle East.

C: Do you fear that Argentine House will simply become another bureaucratic institution?

BT: I don’t think so because we embody real and concrete necessities. What’s more, it will be a living entity within Israeli society. Few are aware that Spanish is Israel’s fourth predominant language: Hebrew comes first, then English, Arabic and Spanish. The expelled Sepharadic Jews of Spain speak Ladino, a Spanish in the style of Cervantes…

C: What made you personally assume this seemingly difficult and tiring task?

BT: My personal motivations are probably the same as those of others who participate. I believe it is of utmost importance that Argentines of various extractions live in close harmony with each other. Until recently, very few Jewish people had Christian friends, much as it was rare to see Methodists coming into contact with Orthodox Christians. That’s why I was moved by the ideals which inspired the Vatican Council. This is a country (Argentina) whose richness lies in its cultural multiplicity. Doing something together is what gets people to appreciate each other.

C: What will be the cost of this enterprise?

BT: It’s still too early to tell. Whatever the cost, it will get accomplished. The ideals go forth at increasing speed and the contributions are mounting day after day.

C: Everyone credits you with the original idea of starting Argentine House in Israel.

BT: It’s not a coincidence that this idea occurred to me. Many times, when my job took me to Israel, I noted that there is no place for me to read an Argentine newspaper there. I then wanted Argentina to have a ”storefront” in the Middle East where people could learn how Argentines write, paint and compose.

”Confirmado” Weekly magazine June 6, 1966, Buenos Aires Argentina