Translated by Nelson R.Orringer
The publication of this work obeys two purposes tightly bound to one another: to do homage to the memory of Don Iedidio Efrón, one of the top figures of Argentine Judaism, and to save from oblivion the image of his native town by publishing the work in which Don Iedidio Efrón recalls the years of his childhood and adolescence in that little town in the district of Grodno, Lithuania, which ceased to exist when it was swept away by the exterminating fury of Hitler's savagery.
As can be seen, both purposes flow into one another; it would not be possible to clearly understand the biography of Don Iedidio Efrón as an educator, community leader and spiritual guide of Argentine Judaism, without previously knowing the modalities of his moral and intellectual formation in his family home, in the bosom of a typical community of Eastern European Judaism.
To tell the truth, the publication of this book had been planned some time ago. Some of its chapters had come out previously in the decade of the 1950s in the review of the Grodno-and-Environs Residents Union, first edited by Michael Sinay and Fanny Rems in Buenos Aires in 1951 under the title Grodner Opklanguen (Echos of Grodno).
The interest aroused by the descriptions of the town of Amdur was enormous, with its typically Jewish atmosphere and its local characters, among whom Rabbis and Melamdim, the teachers, and the Sofrim, the doctors and the workers. And let us say at this point that everything in Amdur was so essentially Jewish that Don Iedidio comes to establish a notable distinction between the Jewish drunkards and crazies of this locality, whose presence was expected, and the Gentile crazies and drunkards of the region.
It is not astonishing therefore that very soon there arose the incentive to publish in a book the memories of Iedidio Efrón. But the incentive remained postponed for reasons that have lost their relevance today, and it reappeared during a conversation by the author of these lines with Dr. David Efrón, older son of Don Iedidio, on the occasion of the latter's return to Argentina after a long absence from that country, during which he developed an important line of scientific research at Columbia University (New York), and where he received a Ph.D. in social sciences and brilliantly served for more than twenty consecutive years in
the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, while performing, among other important functions, that of Coordinator of Programs for the integration of indigenous and tribal populations of Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.
In 1971, twenty years had passed since the death of Don Iedidio, and the anniversary went by hardly noticed at all. On the other hand, no sector of the society until then paid any tribute to his memory, deserved for his merits and the importance of his work in the process of structuring and consolidating Jewish cultural life in the country. It was clearly an injustice, and it was enough for us to point it out to all sectors of the community in which Don Iedidio left the imprint of his fruitful endeavors to offer their support for correcting this injustice.
Hence this endeavor can assume concrete form today with the adherence of the leaders of the Jewish community of Buenos Aires, the Delegation of Argentine-Israelite Associations (DAIA), the Congregación Israelita, the Argentine Zionist Organization, the Vaad Hajinuj, Hamercasi, the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA), the Agrarian Brotherhood, the H. D. Nomberg Society of Writers and Journalists, the Grodno-and-Environs Residents Union, and of course of a whole group of colleagues, friends, former students, and admirers of Don Iedidio Efrón.
The presentation of this book will allow the rendering of a public tribute worthy of him, to his brilliant, intellectual biographies and to the
historical importance of his work in education and social and cultural institutions.
Don Iedidio Efrón came to Argentina with his parents and siblings in 1895, through the mediation of the JCA, which speedily brought them from the port of Buenos Aires to the Province of Entre Ríos and set them up as farmers in Colonia Clara.
Don Iedidio was then seventeen, and was already an expert in Bible and Talmud.
He had been born in Amdur July 11, 1878. He was the fifth of seven children that cheered up the home of Mordecai Efrón and Peshe Sergei; a middle-class home which was a shining light of religious tradition and moral righteousness.
It can be underscored here that Amdur was an important center of Rabbinic culture. Dubnow mentions it on the same plane with Pinsk, Vilna, and Minsk. This is enough to establish its importance in the history of Jewish religious tradition. Amdur enriched Jewish life in Lithuania with a select hub of eminent, wise Jews, gaonim and askanim. Don Iedidio in his book devotes a special chapter to the Yeshiva of Amdur while emphasizing that other more populous communities had not had at their disposal their own Yeshiva.
The people of Amdur, on the other hand, delighted in the fact that at one time the famous Vaad Arba Aratzot (Council of Four Countries)
had held a meeting there. This council generally met twice a year, usually in Lublin (Poland) or in Jaroslav (Galicia), during the 16th and 17th centuries. At that time they established norms for the inner life of Jewish communities and adopted measures to defend them.
Raised in such an atmosphere, specifically Jewish, it is not surprising that, in agreement with Rabbi Yehudah ben Teima's teachings, he studied Bible already at the age of five, and at ten its commentaries, and at thirteen the precepts of the Law, and at fifteen the Talmud. But what had been prescribed by the Pirké Avot (V, 24) for his future years necessarily had to be postponed because when Iedidio reached the age of 17 his family emigrated to Argentina, and the teenager, immersed in the depths of the Gemara, had to discontinue his Talmudic studies and apply himself to the toil of working the land in Colonia Clara.
This was only a small interval because, in the same way as his parents and siblings, he soon took affection to the Argentine land and learned to till it with fruition. That was not incompatible with his faithfulness to the law of Moses and his steadfastness in the practices of religious tradition.
In parallel fashion, he learned to associate with the Argentine gaucho, and studied the language of the country, its history and customs, and soon became familiar with the local traditions and the ways of institutional life in his new homeland.
Of course it was not easy to adapt to the new
environment. Neither Iedidio nor his family was prepared for the labor of the countryside, just the same way that the vast majority of the colonists that had arrived at that country some years before were unprepared. Circumstances obliged them to leave Tzarist Russia to seek peace, and taking up farm life was a way to achieve it. Hence, often reluctantly, the new colonists had to apply themselves to the arduous task of tilling the fields, of learning from the gauchos how to grasp the handle of a plow, how to lead pairs of oxen and how to dig furrows in the virgin land; at the same time, they learned how to scatter seeds, how to thresh, to pile crops, to till, to pile up packets of grain, to wield an ax and to cut down trees. Thus they came to be good farmers, and many of them distinguished themselves in agricultural work as true Jewish gauchos, as Alberto Gerchunoff characterized them in his famous work.
But there was another no less important aspect in the process of their adaptation to this environment: it was the lack of a specifically Jewish cultural environment. Not all colonials had the same degree of culture as the Efróns, the Winocurs, the Yagupskis, the Kaplans, or the Steinbergs, who had studied Talmud in their native land.
Don Iedidio was not the only one to feel lost, initially, in this setting of low Jewish culture, where the main thing was not an interpretation of a verse of the Bible or of a page of the Gemara, but the struggle for daily bread and peaceful
coexistence with the gauchos of that area. His passion for study never abated, and it was evident that he had not been born to be a farmer but to cultivate the higher views of the spirit.
Nonetheless, he adapted to the demands of his new life, although he could never submit to the scarcity of programs of Judaic teaching offered in the schools created in the colonies by the administration of the JCA.
As is well known, those schools had to perform for a time a double educative function. On the one hand, they had to develop programs of secular education, in view of the absence of public schools in that area, and on the other hand, to teach the rudiments of Jewish education. They were virtually what is today understood as integral schools, with the limitations peculiar to the place and period in which they were created.
Another important thing: as Efrón pointed out many years later, since it was a question of colonies inhabited as a whole by Jews who were completely unable to speak Spanish and even to recognize the sound of that language, accustomed as they were in their country of origin to Slavic, Yiddish, or Hebrew diction, the need arose to teach the language of the country to Jewish teachers who could communicate at the earliest time with their students in another language, and who understood the attitude of the students' parents.
Colonization was in its initial stage, and it was not
possible to find among the Jewish element of that country the needed teaching personnel. Hence the JCA found itself obliged to ask the Universal Jewish Alliance of Paris to make available to Argentine students a certain number of Jewish professors of Sephardic origin, graduated from the Normal School of Paris, with the advantage of speaking Ladino; this was to make it easy to teach Spanish.
Clearly it was only a half-solution; not all the teachers in the Alliance, despite being Jewish, could get along with their Ashkenazic fellow Jews. But it must be recognized that they performed a great service for Jewish education in the initial years of the Jewish colonies.
With a generosity worthy of a good man, Don Iedidio Efrón was the first to pay tribute to the first Spanish teacher of the Jewish colonies, Don M. Sabah.
As the years went by, in the measure that Jewish schooling was growing in the colonies, and with it an Argentine acculturation, the JCA began to select its teachers among the sons of the colony, whether among the graduates of its school, or among the youths that had came to the country equipped with a background that suited them for elementary teaching.
This opened a new horizon for young Iedidio Efrón: devotion to teaching. The year 1903 meant a complete change in his life: he formed his own
home and became part of the teaching staff of a school of the JCA. Out of his marriage to Sara Miriam Steinberg came five children: David, Simona, Tobias, Rafael, and Taibe; all were to shine in time in sociological research, technology, music, song, and television.
Intellectually he was eminently suited of course for the exercise of Jewish teaching. He had more than enough basic knowledge, and although he had to adapt to the minimal demands of elementary teaching, he never stopped dreaming of the establishment of a Talmudic academy -- a Yeshiva -- in the countryside of Entre Ríos.
This dream became reality in 1911, when the first Yeshiva was founded in Argentina. It lasted for a short while in the Fainberg colony, under the direction of Leon Winocur, author of the first Hebrew Spanish Dictionary published in Latin America. It was a praiseworthy initiative, worthy of Romantics and dreamers . But the setting was still not prepared for it.
Meanwhile, Don Iedidio applied himself to the study of the Spanish language, and was pursuing his identification with Argentine life. In the interim he felt vitalized by the arrival in Argentina of a prestigious figure hired by the Jewish Congregation for the performance of the function of Great Rabbi of Argentina: Dr. Samuel Halphon. He came to perform with exemplary dignity the function of spiritual guide of Argentine Judaism
shortly after his arrival in that country in 1905. In time he would associate himself with multiple enterprises for the good of the public, especially in the matter of Jewish education and culture. Don Iedidio was one of his most enterprising coworkers.
Very soon Don Iedidio distinguished himself as a Hebrew teacher in a JCA school, and consequently was named director of a mixed Spanish-Hebrew school. Demanding as he was in intellectual matters, he had no qualms whatsoever, since he was the father of four children, about enrolling as a student of the Alberdi Normal School of Rural Schoolteachers, of the area of Paraná, and graduated as national schoolteacher.
In 1911 an important event took place in Judeo-Argentine cultural life: the founding of Jewish Religious Courses sponsored by the JCA Great Rabbi Dr. Halphon who was entrusted with organizing it. Three years later that institution honored Don Iedidio by naming him supervisor of its schools in the zones of Basavilbaso (Entre Ríos) and Moisés-Ville (Santa Fe).
At the end of the same year, shortly after having founded the League of Teachers of the JCA, Don Iedidio moved to Buenos Aires to take over the office of Supervisor of Religious Courses of Study of the JCA. Some time afterwards he took charge of serving as General Director of the same. From that time on, he devoted himself fully to Jewish education and teaching in that country and in neighboring countries, thereby undertaking an uninterrupted activity
of more than a quarter of a century. His administrative work was realized in the raising of the intellectual and educational level of teaching and the founding of schools in the Federal Capital, in the provinces, and in the national territories. It goes without saying that it is he who organized them, guided them and supervised them with exemplary dedication, while serving them with the greatest strivings and the keenest elements of his intelligence.
In 1917 emerged an arrangement sponsored by the Jewish Congregation to start another initiative that would substantially enrich the panorama of Jewish educational life in that country: the founding of the Vaad Hajinuj Haroshi (Direction of Religious Courses of Study). It was a valuable undertaking promoted by the Great Rabbi Dr. Halphon. Its objective was to interest all Jews in the country in the Jewish education of their children, helping, in principle, by allotting small amounts of money to the needed courses of study and by later taking charge of the whole administrative and directive apparatus of Jewish schools founded and maintained by the JCA.
Needless to say the new educational center counted on the unconditional support of Don Iedidio, whose activity then acquired an almost fevered pitch. Convinced of the need to extend Jewish teaching to neighboring countries, he often traveled and founded schools in various cities as Uruguay, Chile, and Paraguay. Hence he became one of the most beloved and popular figures of Jewish life in a great part of Latin America.
Besides his solid Jewish and secular acculturation, he had more than enough qualifications to be considered a student of our father Abraham, since he had the three qualities that the Talmud establishes to be considered such: A good eye, a humble spirit and a modest soul (Pirké Avot, V, 22).
Further, he was respected and beloved because in daily living he was consistent with the precept of Rabbi Hillel not to judge one's neighbor without putting oneself in his place. (Pirké Avot II,5).
Don Iedidio wrote the history of the entire process of Jewish-Argentine education in an excellent, widely documented work, titled La Obra Escolar en las Colonias Judías (Schooling Efforts in the Jewish Colonies). The DAIA included it in the book Fifty Years of Jewish Colonization in Argentina, which it published in 1939. And it is worth the trouble to point out that in the final paragraph Don Iedidio humbly expresses that he was fortunate enough to serve modestly the cause of common religious education of the JCA Colonies for close to forty years. As a tribute to historical truth, it should be emphasized that Don Iedidio was truly, for more than a quarter century, the high priest (cohén godól) in the sanctuary of Jewish education in Argentina; the educational activity of the Religious Course of Study that he planned, coordinated, and systematized, both in the technical and the administrative orders, benefited all Judaism in the Republic. The transferal of his activity to the Vaad Hakehilot (Federation of Jewish Communities) in December 1956
encouraged and served as a basis for structuring the Vaad Hajinuj Hamercazi (Central Council for Jewish Education).
We still have not stated, despite its high importance, Don Iedidio's unwillingness to assimilate into the non-Jewish community as did certain communal leaders with whom circumstances had forced him to collaborate. Nor did he hold the hostility which those leaders could not conceal towards the Zionist movement.
Don Iedidio was always a militant Zionist. He was that to a fault, since Herzl's thought had galvanized his own sense of life by linking it to the struggle for the spiritual and political rebirth of Israel. In a very inspired paper about the spiritual world of Rav Tzair, Don Iedidio compares two top figures of contemporary Judaism: Rav Tzair and Stephan Wise. He underscores his devotion to both for struggling for a common ideal: Jewish Zionism and nationalism, based on infinite love for their people.
It was that same love for his people that encouraged the Zionist activity of Don Iedidio Efrón, and changed him into one of its most distinguished leaders. Even today it is remembered that in the old Zionist Federation, under the loving watch of those who were its great figures Joselevich, Gesang, Liebschutz, Rosovsky, Nijensohn--, no debate was considered exhausted or ended without previously heeding the enormous word of Don Iedidio, rich in essences and interlaced with aphorisms and parables that he never needed to seek because he always had them on the tip of his tongue.
As a consequence, he was also a Zionist leader of first magnitude, and performed with dignity and nobleness of spirit other functions of transcendence in community life; some of them in collaboration with the second spiritual guide of the Jewish Congregation, one of his best friends: the Great Rabbi Dr. Guillermo Schlesinger.
Dr. Schlesinger came to the country in 1937 and shortly after took charge of the Presidency of the Central Committee of Jewish Education, which relied on Don Iedidio Efrón as its Secretary General.
Spiritually identified, both worked as one in the ambitious plan of creating an institution of higher Jewish religious studies, which came into being in 1943 with the founding of the Majón Lelimudei Haiahudut (Higher Institute of Judaic Religious Studies). This new organization achieved singular prestige for the excellence of its educational projects and the efficacy of its work, transforming distinguished teachers not only of Hebrew but also of Jewish history and literature. It must be emphasized that in that Majón a great part of the young Jewish Argentine intelligentsia was educated: Ing. Schelom Rosemberg, Abraham Platkin, Heriberto Haber, Mordejai Herbst, Dr. José Klainer, etc.
For obvious reasons, a very accurate observation of Dr. Schlesinger should be shared here with regard to Don Iedidio Efrón. He said of him that if at some time the community has had a true Rav Hacolel,
it was Iedidio Efrón, with his vast, undisputed authority. And it is indisputable; although he has no rabbinical degree or title, that he was by his own right the Rav Hacolel of the community.
In 1945 the Great Rabbi and the Rav Hacolel traveled to London to attend an important meeting called by the American Jewish Committee, with the aim of studying the possibility of working together with the Jewish communities of Latin America for organized and strengthening community life.
After having collaborated as well with other Jewish organizations for the good of the public, like Bnai Brith, the Society for Protection of Jewish Immigrants, Ezras Noshim an entity created for the protection of woman and Jewish marriages and for the integrity and ethics of Jewish families, HICEM an entity formed by the fusion of societies HIAS, JCA and EMIGDIRECT, to coordinate the emigration and immigration of Jewish refugees, the Keren Kaiemet and the Keren Haiesod, he managed to bring out even one more of the dreams that he was lovingly cherishing: the foundation of the Normal School for Teachers of Religion and Hebrew (Mejoná), which also relied on the sponsorship by the Jewish Congregation. He also managed to bring to completion an important and difficult effort that had been entrusted to him by the JCA in 1942: the Social and Economic Census of the Jewish population of the country. But it still has not been published and it is beyond doubt that if its conclusions were brought up to date,
they would contribute to the welfare of community life, which today as well as yesteryear has needed clarification.
It is worth the trouble to point out on this subject that, as Don Iedidio has documented, the Jewish population of the country did not exceed 321,526 persons at the end of the year 1946; hence it represented 2.2% of the general population. That total probably rose to 326,000 people at the end of 1948. Hence by mid 1950 he greeted not only with astonishment but also with indignation two public statements about the Jewish population in Argentina, which seemed to him both contrary to the truth. The first was a publication of Jacob Leshinsky, renowned Jewish sociologist of worldwide fame, a specialist in demography and statistics, in which he stated that the sum total of Jews in Argentina in 1947 reached 380,000 persons, representing about 2% of the general population of the country. Don Iedidio publicly called for Leschinsky (Die Yiddische Zeitung, April 14, 1950) to explain how he had reached that number, and the clarification by the distinguished statistician was in fact quite unconvincing, as he alleged that he had inferred that total from a paper published in the American Jewish Year Book of New York (Die Yiddische Zeitung, July 2, 1950).
Don Iedidio's indignation was even greater when he found out that some distinguished leaders were declaring that the Jewish community in Argentina numbered nothing less than a half million people.
Because he published a clear statement about The Jewish Population in the Argentine Republic (Jewish World, June 6, 1950); and he pointed out in it that nothing can be done against the persons eager to increase our population in Argentina, and he observed that perhaps it turns out to be nice to state that our community numbers half a million individuals, since it is considered one of the most important in the world after the last European slaughter, but it does not even in the least reflect the truth and it does more damage than benefit to us in official spheres.
From that point until now almost a quarter century has gone by, and it still keeps being stubbornly repeated, like a weary old song, that in Argentina there is a half a million Jews.
Therefore the statement we made in the Territorial Convention of the DAIA in August 1972 is very much up to date: We do not have statistical elements of the first order. We do not know how many we are nor what we are. It is shameful that for 10 to 15 years it has continued to be stated that the Jewish community is formed by half a million persons, as if here no one was born or died, nor were any structural changes ever produced. Therefore it is urgent that we get down to the business of taking a census of the community. I called for it in a convention of the DAIA in Mar de Plata 4 or 5 years ago, and I then pointed out that there are more than enough reasons to believe we are not only a middle class, as is customarily stated, that among us are also a working class,
laborers, employees, and peasants; we need to have an exact image of what is the community in the Capital and in the interior of the country.
Don Iedidio should be credited with having tried to create, through his study on the census, an exact image of what was then in the Judeo-Argentine community and with having published to that effect several illuminating studies, based on statistical data that he himself had gathered in the Federal Capital and in all the provinces and territories where there were Jews.
Don Iedidio also published several studies on basic themes of Jewish culture and religious tradition.
Like all Talmudists, he felt devotion for the life and work of Rashi; hence he was one of the promoters of the tribute the Judeo-Argentine community paid to the memory of the most famous interpreters of the Bible and the Talmud, on the 900th anniversary of his death. As secretary, he then formed a Tribute Committee and collaborated with Natán Gesang, José Méndelson and Zvi Schwarz in the Publishing Committee with the excellent tribute book that came out in Buenos Aires in 1941.
Books had capital importance in his life; as a result his passage to eternity with a book in his hand seems to be a symbol. Evidently he had a passion for study and righteousness. The
great things he did or promoted in the quality of Jewish education and culture in Argentine certify that Diderot was right to say Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.
He was one of the patriarchal figures of Judaism in Latin America. He shaped many students, and practicing what he preached, he himself was the student of Acron, loving peace and attaining harmony.
For the seriousness and soberness of his judgments, Don Iedidio Efrón more than once was outstanding as a referee in family arguments and in institutional conflicts. The fact is that invariably, during his whole life, he was faithful to the urging of Rabbi Hillel: Ohev shalom ve-rodef shalom (Love peace and attain peace and harmony).
To paraphrase an Argentine writer, we could say that Don Iedidio felt, just as Domingo Faustino Sarmiento had, the passion for knowledge; he bit the apple of knowledge with all his teeth and wanted to teach what he knew; and he had the mercy of teaching.
I cannot remember when or where the link that bound me to Don Iedidio Efrón began and lasted until the day he died. He was for me not only a teacher but also, despite the age difference between us, a companion and friend.
For several years we would see each other almost daily;
we were neighbors in the offices of the JCA, on Ayacucho Street. Don Iedidio undertook to preside over the Religious Courses of Study that functioned on the ground floor, and I served as Technical Secretary of the Leadership of the JCA and its Commission of Culture, on the first floor of the building.
Every morning invariably Don Iedidio took a break to come to my office to express his views about the latest in the Jewish world, or to tell me a new anecdote or a new joke about some current theme, usually made-up by him. He was a wellspring of Jewish ingenuity and as pleasant a conversationalist as he was a sparkling one. The Talmudic sayings he had lovingly collected were so numerous, that he always had them on the tip of his tongue. This was so true, that a conversation with Don Iedidio could not be conceived, whatever the subject, without him bringing to bear some phrase or saying from the Talmud. He has been not only one of the most intelligent, most cultured Jewish leaders ever in Argentina, but also one of the very few in whom wisdom (jojma) and clear-sightedness (picjus), ingenuity (jarifut) and jocularity joined hands.
Favored with a strong physical constitution, he was corpulent and of good stature. He had a fabulous vitality and dynamism, and an ever-alert ingenuity. Frank and spontaneous, he never hesitated to gamble in favor of truth and justice.
I admired in him not only the breadth and solidity of his Biblical and Talmudic culture but also
his insightfulness, his flowing eloquence, and the bravery with which he customarily defended his ideas and fought for the ideals he sustained.
He was a man of strong convictions and a spirit warmed by an intense love for Jewish traditions and liberty. His exceptional Judaic knowledge did not enclose him in the narrow canons of the Halacha and the Aggada. That speaks in his favor and explains the ease with which he spiritually communicated with young people, including those living at a distance from traditional Jewish life.
One of the favorite themes of our conversations was the present and the future of Jewish culture in Latin America. Knowing that one of his intellectual weaknesses was Rav Tzair, I once suggested to him that he translate into Spanish the Kitzur Hatalmud (Summation of Talmud) of the famous thinker and interpreter. The proposal deprived him of sleep for a time, and it was not easy to bring about that idea, since in our locale, men of his intellectual mettle, capable of collaborating in so broad an enterprise, have been all too scarce. Later, he once again spoke of it
with another Talmudist of his depth, Don José Méndelson, but in the meanwhile the initiative lost relevancy when the first volumes of the Talmud was edited in Spanish by Cultural Heritage in 1965.
In this case the memory of José Méndelson is not an accident. Since it is a question of the deepening of biblical and Talmudic studies in Argentina, and perhaps in all Spanish America, it is necessary that the names of Don Iedidio and José Méndelson appear together.
Besides the breadth of their knowledge of the Bible and Talmud, between the two of them there were other noteworthy points of association. Both devoted themselves to Jewish teaching, both managed to spread and clarify traditional values of Judaism, and make a true effort to make known to new generations classical and modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature. Both assigned special significance to the knowledge of Jewish history as an educational factor. Let us even add that both had the passion for study and were true living encyclopedias. Also, both were stupendous conversationalists and had extraordinary memories.
To all this I can bear witness, since both honored me with their friendship, guidance, and intellectual esteem.
On this subject I wish to underscore the importance of the collaboration they both lent me for the
preparation of my Dictionary of Hebraisms and Related Words. I had proposed to restore the historical dignity of Spanish words and expressions of Hebrew origin, and both generously offered me basic elements for the clarification of their ancient and modern meaning. Hence I felt the duty to make public my recognition of their cooperation by singling them out in the final paragraph of the Introduction: To Don Iedidio Efrón, praiseworthy scholar of the Talmud, recently deceased, and to Don José Méndelson, publisher, and singular scholar and bibliophile.
Don Iedidio had a certain weakness for some of my previous papers. For instance, it interested him a great deal, since he was so attached to Bible study, to read the chapter titled, Biblical Teaching in my book The Myth of Moral Education. I am certain that he did not totally agree with some of my positions: for instance, that the teaching of the Bible is perfectly compatible with the laicism of the New School: The teaching of the Bible, not as revelation of divinity, but as autonomous moral, sublime doctrine, of social justice and love of neighbor. He was not very convinced either about the need for scientific teaching of the religious phenomenon; and some of my observations about the many contradictions documented in the Book of Books seemed heretical to him. But he fully concurred that the educational value of Bible study is all the more positive the more it establishes
the principle that love is the supreme virtue as the basis of its moral inspirations.
A year before his death, my paper on San Martin and the Moral Principles of Judaism moved him: I said I had discovered in [Judaism] a San Martin seen with biblical eyes, as he put it in a letter to my father, to whom he was also an honored friend.
Religious orthodoxy and the traditional Jewish spirit never opposed the devotion of Don Iedidio to Argentine affairs. It can be said that, the same as Méndelson and Alberto Gerchunoff, Don Iedidio was at the same time intimately Jewish and warmly Argentinean.
One day I pointed out to him the importance that a Yiddish or a Hebrew version of Martín Fierro [the Argentine national epic] would take on. He knew line by line the poem by [José] Hernández [i.e., Martin Fierro] and sometimes alternated in his conversation Talmudic sayings with the advice of Martín Fierro. The suggestion seemed excellent to him. But he did not see how to 'skin the cat.' He did not feel encouraged to translate a poem of such epic vigor, because he had never written verses, nor was he very fond of reading them. He had been raised in Bible study and the best part of poetry resided, in his judgment, in the Psalms of David.
What is more, he did not see who among Judeo-Argentine young intellectuals could perform so difficult a labor. He had already posed the serious problem of the lack of translators of Hebrew and
Yiddish to Spanish, and even more, the lack of translators of Spanish to Yiddish and Hebrew.
Sometimes we spoke with Don Iedidio about the desirability of editing in Spanish a Spanish version of the Bible undertaken by Jewish scholars with a solid knowledge of the Book of Books and of its Jewish interpreters. Don Iedidio and Don José Méndelson were, perhaps, the only ones who would have been able to complete a bilingual edition with clarifying notes and commentary.
Something more: Don Iedidio was without a doubt a religious man, but spiritually stood far from religious fanaticism. He was understanding, truthful and tolerant. He could be a good friend, a friend in Solomon's sense of a brother for anguish (Prov. 17:17). He abhorred falsehood as well as lying. He would say things in a straightforward way and never feigned his repugnance towards capitulation and disloyalty.
Nor did he ever hide his indignation towards the elevation of uncultured people to the leadership of certain Judeo-Argentine institutions. One of the concerns that most disturbed him in his final years was the extent of profaneness and ignorance of Jewish life. His cutting diatribes against certain societal leaders, as presumptuous as they were weak-witted, came to be well known.
It is worth the trouble to recall on this subject that in the final years of his life he gave special attention to the
need to spread Israeli music and Jewish folklore. He was one of the most enthusiastic mainstays of the Zimra Institute created for this purpose, and probably it was he who coined Zimra's motto: Whoever sings with us will sing for Israel and for the sake of Israel.
That Institute came to publish several albums of popular songs, liturgical compositions, etc. One of the albums, titled Rina Utfila is dedicated to the festivals of Rosh Ha-Shonah and Yom Kippur. In the selection of the texts of prayers, just as in its phonetic transcription and in its Spanish version, the collaboration of Don Iedidio is notable.
Finally, as a good Jewish father, he would excitedly celebrate the successes and triumphs of his children in their intellectual, scientific, or artistic matters. For instance, he took pride that one of the research papers undertaken by his son David at Columbia University put to scientific proof the theories of Nazi anthropologists, according to whom the expressive movements of the body depended on the racial ancestry of the individual, not on the cultural and social milieu. And he not only delighted in pointing out his son's interest in one of the least known aspects of Jewish life, the gesticulatory behavior of traditional Jews of Eastern Europe in New York City, but also his work Gesture, Race, and Culture, originally published in English in 1941, and its first Spanish edition in 1970. It delighted Don Iedidio that the author used as an argument of authority the testimony of the great
liturgical Judeo-Spanish poet Yehuda Ha-Leví, and that he emphasized his great reliance on a core of teachers and students of the Rabbi Itzhak Elhanan Yeshiva.
Don Iedidio also took pride in the fact that his daughter Sima was outstanding in Jewish song both in Yiddish and in Hebrew. One day I attended a song recital by Sima Haplán with Don Iedidio and it moved me to see him weep with emotion as he identified with the text and the music of the songs. Likewise he took pride in the fact that his daughter Taibe (Paloma [Dove]), had taken charge of conducting the Chamber Orchestra and Zimra Chorus.
I still wish to add that we often debated with Don Iedidio some of his conclusions about the social and economic census of the Jewish population of the country to which he devoted several years of hard, unpleasant work. He was also a pioneer in this aspect of Jewish life in Argentina. It is certain that some years earlier the engineer Simón Weill had undertaken the first census study sponsored by B'nai B'rith. Don Iedidio's paper was much broader and better documented. He invested in it more than five years of his life, as of 1942, when he was appointed by the JCA. It continues to be even today the only census of the Judeo-Argentine community; and it is without a doubt that for some years the need has been felt to review its empirical conclusions and face the taking of the present-day census with greater breadth and scientific rigor.
In sum, we may say of Don Iedidio what he said of Rabbi Chaim Tchernowitz (Rav Tzair): He was
distinguished for his Talmudic learning, for the energy he exerted as a spiritual leader, and for strength of character. But his strength of character did not emerge as in Rav Tzair's case against the powers-that-be in his times, but against uncultured social leaders, puffed up with material wealth, which usually arouses the taste for power and pomp; against parents unconcerned with the Jewish education of their children; and against sectors of the community removed from the traditional sources of Judaism.
Mr. Abraham Zak, an eminent writer who is also a native of Amdur, and occasionally serves as President of the H. D. Nomberg Jewish Society of Writers and Journalists of Buenos Aires, has written the prologue to this book. Also included in the book is a piece prepared more than two decades ago by Mr. Isaac Kaplan, another of the leading figures of Argentine Judaism, colleague and friend of Don Iedidio and member of the avant-garde in the history of agrarian cooperative living in Argentina.
Additionally it was decided to use as an epilogue to Don Iedidio's work a fragment of a magnificent essay by another renowned native of Amdur, Dr. Yitzhok Rivkind, a famous historian and linguist, on the
history of his native town. In the editing of Don Iedidio's manuscript and in the preparing of it for publication, Mrs. Fany Rems de Zak, also of Amdur, put forth an invaluable effort of collaboration. Not only did she undertake the task with absolute impartiality and devotion, but also passionate feeling. She thus deserves this special mention.
Let us finally say that the publication of this book forms the first step that Argentine Judaism has taken toward doing justice to the memory of Don Iedidio Efrón, without a doubt one of its most outstanding personalities.
Prof. Lázaro Schallman
Buenos Aires, January 1973.
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