Although long considered a target for comedy, the concept of a Jewish cowboy has been taken more seriously after translations of “The Jewish Gauchos of the Pampas,”, a 1910 story collection by the Argentine Jewish author Alberto Gerchunoff (1883-1950), became available.
Gerchunoff’s Russian family moved to a settlement in Argentina, founded by philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch as a haven for Jews fleeing Europe’s pogroms, only to find further violence in the New World; Gerchunoff’s father, Rab Gershon ben Abraham Gerchunoff, would be murdered by a gaucho. Last October, a fascinating volume appeared from Brill Publishing, “Returning to Babel: Jewish Latin American Experiences, Representations, and Identity.”. Among its chapters is “Should We Bury the Jewish Gaucho? A New Gerchunoff for the 21st Century,” a landmark essay by Edna Aizenberg, author of “Books and Bombs in Buenos Aires: Borges, Gerchunoff, and Argentine Jewish Writing,”, out from Brandeis University Press in 2004, and 2003’s “Parricide on the Pampa?: A New Study and Translation of Alberto Gerchunoff’s Los Gauchos Judios”.
“Should We Bury the Jewish Gaucho?” discusses “Star of David,” a little-known and still-unpublished late work by Gerchunoff. Composed of around fifty articles written during the 1930s and 40s, “Star of David” is a militant anti-fascist screed and ardent defense of Yiddishkeit, what Aizenberg terms an “intensely Jewish text without nostalgia.” Writing editorials instead of novels, Gerchunoff announced at a 1936 anti-Fascist meeting in Buenos Aires: “I miss my literature very much… but the Fascist monster still hasn’t died, and the time for rest still hasn’t come!… I’ve become a soldier of liberty; I’ve fought against the sinister ideas that threatened to transform the world.”