You Changed My Definition of Jewishness

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Rabbi Meyer arrived in 1959 to find the Argentine Jewish community in crisis. He was disconcerted to see so many assimilated Jews, mostly empty services, and a youth alienated from their faith. But Marshall understood why so many Argentine Jews felt that services were irrelevant to their lives. So he started to shake things up, something he would continue to do his whole life.

First, he encouraged Jewish children to become more involved in their religion in order to bring more Jewish families back to the faith. As the rabbi in charge of youth outreach, he started Camp Ramah in the summer of 1960, which he and Naomi built from the ground up. Their 24-hour days working at the camp paid off as hundreds of families joined the Congregación Israelita.

Marshall also wanted to invigorate Jewish intellectual life. In 1963 he started a publication and translation project that would make available dozens of books on Jewish history and theology in the community’s native tongue, Spanish.

Soon Marshall’s plans and ambitions grew larger than what was possible at the Congregación Israelita. He often clashed with the temple hierarchy, who were resistant to change. After four years, he left to found Comunidad Bet El as well as the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in 1963.

Marshall viewed the seminary as one of the most important ways to foster Jewish community and Jewish life. He realized that Argentina needed native-born rabbis who could better impart the teachings of Judaism with an understanding of local contexts and cultures, rabbis who could make Judaism relevant to those who lived in South America. Up until then, a mere 12 elderly and foreign-born rabbis ministered to some 450,000 Argentine Jews. The seminary was the key to changing all that.