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Raanan Rein. Fútbol, Jews, and the Making of Argentina. Translated by Martha Grenzeback. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014. Illustrations. 240 pp. $85.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8047-9200-4; $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8047-9341-4.

Reviewed by Dalia Wassner (Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, Brandeis University)
Published on H-Judaic (May, 2016)
Commissioned by Matthew A. Kraus

Sport, Ethnicity and Nationalism: Jews and Argentina's Fútbol

In Fútbol, Jews, and the Making of Argentina, Raanan Rein sets for himself and the reader the following challenge: “Can we write the history of Argentine Jews without mentioning the Atlanta football club?” (p. 164). Narrated at once against the backdrop of Jewish immigration into Buenos Aires, Jewish integration into the city’s neighborhoods, and the changing political reality of Argentina through the twentieth century, the transformation and growth of Club Atlanta (Club Atlético Atlanta) is traced with an eye to the inclusion of Jewish players, club membership, and club leadership. In his work, Rein underscores the salience of sports as a valid lens through which to approach not only immigrant integration into a majority culture but also Jews’ participation in the very formation of Argentine national identity. In undertaking such a study, Rein participates in recent Jewish historical scholarship that urges more subtle studies on ethnic and national processes of belonging as they intersect with local histories.[1]

A preeminent historian of Jewish Argentina, Rein places the history of Club Atlanta within an abbreviated history of Jewish immigration to Argentina, and more specifically, within a localized history of Jewish Buenos Aires replete with street names, neighborhood landmarks, and now-famous inhabitants, to which he adds the club’s intersection with non-Jewish cultural and political personalities who contributed to the formation of modern Buenos Aires, and at times, Argentina itself. Rein thus addresses defining Jewish moments ranging from the Semana Trágica to neighborhood claims to fame, such as Manuel Gleizer’s bookstore (a landmark), and the following personalities: Samuel Eichelbaum (the playwright); Julio Jorge Nelson (né Julio Rosofsky, the journalist); and one of the exported crown jewels of modern Argentine Jewish literature, César Tiempo (born Israel Zeitlin). At the same time, Rein’s nuanced understanding of the changing political climate of the twentieth century—involving a (qualified) invitation to European immigration, a total of six coups, the rise of Peronism, and the tragic period of the 1976-83 military dictatorship—is placed alongside a narrative of evolving Jewish trends in national politics (socialism, communism, and depoliticization) as expressed within the “Jewish” sports club’s shifting periods of politicization. One example is Rein’s coverage of the “Peronization of Argentine sports” and the club’s deliberations regarding naming the stadium after Eva Perón (p. 104).

Having authored several founding historical accounts of the Jews of Buenos Aires and their relation to key political figures and movements, Rein is uniquely positioned to undertake the study of Jewish participation in Buenos Aires neighborhood sports as it relates to their integration within national cultural identity, which he delivers with an eye to new scholarship emerging in the United States and England aiming to do the same in their own contexts. Moreover, the author’s personal connection to the topic (his father-in-law provides authentic memorabilia and his relations are current Atlanta fans) gives texture to his abundant professional archival, oral, and photographic sources of evidence. In addition, Rein’s own visual elaborations, be they maps of Buenos Aires neighborhoods that detail evolving Jewish settlement (map 1.1) or tables graphing the growing stadiums by size (table 3.1) and charting evolving club rankings by year (tables 4.3, 5.1, 6.2, 7.1), are aided by Ariel Korob’s detailed list of Jewish members of the board of directors from 1970 to 1996 (table 7.2). These auxiliary sources of comparison, mostly produced by the author, provide the reader with a condensed forum for relevant statistics and a visual appreciation for the club’s evolution in terms of location, membership, and rankings.

The author notes that Argentina was also host to nodes of exclusion, which in some cases resulted in the formation of discrete Jewish sports institutions, such as the Hebrew Maccabi Organization (1928) and the Club Náutico Hocoaj (1935). However, this is a study of Jews’ inclusion of Club Atlético Atlanta as a neighborhood sports club where Jews at times formed a substantial percentage in the club’s leadership and fan base, resulting, perhaps most importantly, in a majority identity in the public imagination. Substantiating the communal import for Club Atlanta, Rein details the club’s auxiliary activities, including such recreational athletic competitions as karate and chess, the building of a skating rink, musical and theatrical performances, film festivals, fashion shows, evening dances, fencing exhibitions, an on-site kindergarten, and family programing, among many others.

A consistent strength of the work is the author’s detailed use of various archives in Buenos Aires (Archivo de la Asociación del Fútbol Argentino, Archivo del Club Atlético Atlanta, Archivo General de la Nación, and Archivo Personal de Jorge Kolbowski), which offer insight into the existence, expansion, and success of the club in terms of leadership, finances, player acquisition and trades, and the centrality of political endorsements from such figures as Juan and Evita Perón and Jorge Videla. With the help of such archives, Rein documents in detail Jewish participation in the club’s leadership, beginning in 1922 with Osvaldo Simón Piackin and reaching a high point in 1968 with León Kolbowski’s last term, when Jews reached a majority on the board membership. At the same time, Rein documents overt manifestation of anti-Semitism during Atlanta games, providing the troubling lyrics of certain chants that in some cases express sympathy with Nazi goals and methods of genocide. Rein also documents the details of local cultural figures’ participation in club communal events, which drew, for example, such personalities as radio hosts Osvaldo Miranda and Elías Fort, the poet and artist Héctor Gagliardi, the orchestra of Pedro Láurenz, and the singer Roberto Quiroga.

Yet surprisingly, some of the most illustrative examples of what Jewish involvement with Club Atlanta meant for Jewish Argentine ethnic identity are saved for the introduction and epilogue, where Rein tells of a Yiddish teacher’s testimony noting that in the 1950s she altered her Monday classes to center on her students’ rendition of the weekend football game, or a reflection that major works of Jewish Argentine literature (authored, for example, by Manuela Fingueret and Ricardo Feierstein) lend testimony to the centrality of football and Villa Crespo for Jewish Argentina. Likewise, extending the cultural reverberations to 2012, Rein mentions the contemporary telenovela Los Graduados where one of the central families—the Goddzers—speak Yiddish, eat “geufiltefish,” and are passionate for football—specifically as fans of Club Atlético Atlanta. Lastly, a bold and unique contribution of the work is a parting proposal to compare Jewish Latin American identities vis-à-vis fútbol to Palestinian Latin American identities (specifically in Chile, Peru, and Argentina). This perspective suggests an interesting foil with which to further the study of ethnic integration and identity in Latin American nations not only in terms of diverse societies of immigrants but also as a wider lens through which to understand Latin America’s nuanced relationship with immigrants from the Middle East.

Rein’s Fútbol, Jews, and the Making of Argentina thus serves as an invitation to cultural and social historians, and to fans of football everywhere, to further explore the significance and representation of Club Atlético Atlanta in terms of a more complex understanding of Jewish integration into Latin America and of a Latin America integrally composed of Jews.

Note

[1]. In this line of sports/ethnic inquiry in Jewish studies, Rein builds on Latin American and global scholarship: Pablo Alabarces, Fútbol y patria: El fútbol y las narrativas de la nación en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: Prometeo, 2002); Joseph L. Arbena, ed., Sport and Society in Latin America: Diffusion, Dependency, and the Rise of Mass Culture (New York: Greenwood Press, 1998); Michael Brenner and Gideon Reuveni, eds., Emancipation through Muscles: Jews and Sports in Europe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006); Anthony Clavane, Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here? The Story of English Football’s Forgotten Tribe (London: Quercus, 2012); Mike Cronin and Avid Mayall, eds., Sporting Nationalisms: Identity, Ethnicity, Immigration and Assimilation (London: Routledge, 1998); George Eisen, “Jewish Sport History and the Ideology of Modern Sport: Approaches and Interpretations,” Journal of Sport History 25 (1998): 482-531; Brenda Elsey, Citizens and Sportsmen: Fútbol and Politics in Twentieth-Century Chile (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011); Franklin Foer, How Soccer Explains the World (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004); Julio Frydenberg and Rodrigo Daskal, eds., Fútbol, historia y política (Buenos Aires: Aurelia Rivera, 2010); Grant Jarvie, ed., Sport, Racism and Ethnicity (London: Falmer Press, 1991); Haim Kaufman, “Jewish Sports in the Diaspora, Yishuv, and Israel: Between Nationalism and Politics,” Israel Studies 10, no. 2 (2005): 147-167; Peter Levine, Ellis Island to Ebbets Field: Sport and the American Jewish Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Jeremy MacClancy, ed., Sport, Identity and Ethnicity (Oxford: Berg, 1996); Joshua H. Nadel, Fútbol: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014); and Raanan Rein and David M. K. Sheinin, eds., Muscling in on New Worlds: Jews, Sport, and the Making of the Americas (Boston: Brill, 2014).

If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-judaic.

Citation: Dalia Wassner. Review of Rein, Raanan, Fútbol, Jews, and the Making of Argentina. H-Judaic, H-Net Reviews. May, 2016.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=43991

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.