In this city, Argentina’s second largest, traditional Jewish chupahs have been dominating the landscape recently, bringing Jewish residents together in song and celebration of age-old traditions. “This week, it was a Torah; in the next three weeks, we have weddings of three couples who met through Chabad’s activities in Rosario,” says Rabbi Shlomo Tawil, founder and director of Chabad activities in the area. For a city nearly devoid of traditional Judaism a mere two decades ago, in a country where intermarriage rates have soared to 50%, each chupah reflects a milestone for the Jewish community. Collectively, they mark something of a revolution.
Eighteen years ago, a traditional Torah scroll was a rarity in Rosario, a city home to approximately 7000 Jews. When Tawil arrived with his wife Chaya Sara in 1987 to establish a Chabad presence, they were greeted warily, he recalls. “People were suspicious of what we were trying to do in this mostly secular city,” he says, “they approached us slowly.” But nearly two decades later, with a thriving Chabad operation that includes a synagogue, preschool, soup kitchen, summer and winter camps, a street team and teen programs for youth and Torah classes and social events for just about every demographic, most of that suspicion seems to have melted away. If the joyous celebration in honor of Chabad’s newest Torah this week is any measure, the city has come a long way.
Over 700 members of the Jewish community participated in the presentation of a new Torah to the Chabad synagogue this Sunday. Dedicated by the Rosenthal family of Rosario, the Torah’s final letters were inscribed in the family’s offices and then joyously escorted under a chupah through the city streets to its new home. Accompanying the procession were leading members of the Jewish community, and Rabbi Tzvi Grunblatt, director of Chabad activities in Argentina, who flew in for the occasion. At the synagogue, hundreds joined in Hakafot, the traditional Jewish welcome for a new scroll.
The next chupah on Rabbi Tawil’s calendar is the wedding celebration of Pavlo and Gavriela, scheduled to take place next week at the Chabad synagogue. It’s a fitting venue, Tawil says, since the couple met through Chabad’s popular twice-weekly Torah classes at the self-same location.
“Rosario has the distinction of attracting scores of students to its local universities,” explains Rabbi Chaim Nakatch, a member of the Chabad team in Rosario. The students come from surrounding cities and towns, and a good number of them are Jewish. Nakatch, who was brought down to Rosario with his family to work specifically with this demographic, says the ever-growing crowds at Chabad activities aimed for the students only underscores the need to involve them further. “These youth are the future of Argentinian Jewry,” he says, “and bringing them together gives them the opportunity to create a Jewish future for themselves.”
Chabad’s twice weekly Torah classes for young people are regularly attended by well over 100 students, as are Friday night services and Shabbat dinner following. Aside for offering students a well-rounded introduction to Judaism, the events serve another purpose: matching up Jewish couples.
Pavlo and Gavriela’s wedding will be celebrated next week, followed by Gavriel and Romina’s, and then Ariel and Janina’s. It’s a busy schedule for the Chabad Rabbis, whose days are full attending to the varied needs of the Jewish community, but they’re not complaining. “In terms of ensuring the future of Argentina’s Jewish community,” says Tawil, “This is the best method we can think of.”