The Jewish community in Buenos Aires, which has been in continuous lockdown since before Purim, has been dealing with closed shuls and inactive Jewish organizations for months.
Last week, the government extended a mandatory lockdown in its capital city of Buenos Aires and several other parts of the country until June 28, as coronavirus cases in the country continue to rise, currently totaling 23,607 confirmed cases. The South American country also has the strictest travel restrictions in the world, with a commercial flight ban in place until September 1.
“Everyone hoped that the shuls would open this week for at least a minyan of men,” a Chareidi resident of Buenos Aires told B’Chadrei Chareidim. “But at the end the government retracted the order – no public prayer, no weddings – not even outside. It’s a very worrisome situation.”
The lockdown has been relaxed in some parts of the country but the province of Buenos Aires and several other areas that have the highest rates of infection in the country will be in lockdown for at least three more weeks.
Argentina’s health ministry has recorded 693 fatalities from the coronavirus, of which a disproportionate amount is from the Jewish community, which suffered about 30 deaths.
Argentina is home to about 250,000 Jews, the sixth-largest Jewish community in the world, and the largest in Latin America but only a tiny percentage of the country’s 45 million inhabitants. The vast majority of Argentine Jews live in Buenos Aires, the largest city in the country.
Two of the fatalities were Rabbi Gavriel Yabra and his father Roberto, of Buenos Aires, two of the country’s top kashrus experts. Rabbi Gavriel, who was the director of UK Kosher, the largest kosher cerification agency in the Spanish-speaking world, was inspired in his work by his father, Roberto, a pioneer in the kosher food market in Buenos Aires, according to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) report.
Rabbi Gavriel, a father of eight, passed away due to the coronavirus on April 1 at the age of 55 and his father Roberto passed away two weeks later, also of the virus.
The loss of the two men, along with the ban on incoming flights, led to a crisis in Argentina’s normally prodigious exports of beef, with Israel being the largest purchaser. Under normal circumstances, up to 15 Israeli shochtim travel to Argentina twice a year, staying for a few months each time. But in recent months only Argentine citizens have been allowed to enter the country and there aren’t enough local shochtim to schect the volume of meat normally exported to Israel, leading to thousands of tons of meat being held up without kosher certification.
In light of the circumstances, which would cause a huge financial loss to Argentina and a shortage of meat in Israel, a special El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Buenos Aires was arranged last week, bringing in 98 Israeli shochtim who will work in six industrial facilities, JTA reported. The Argentine government was willing to make an exception to its flight ban due to the 15,000 tons of meat waiting to be processed and shipped to Israel, valued at $170 million.
“The Israeli market is of vital importance, as it has shown an upward trend in recent years and a price differential of 42% compared to the rest of the markets,” Argentine Foreign Minister Felipe Sola said Monday in a statement.
The direct charter flight from Tel Aviv, which was only the third-ever direct El Al flight between Israel and Argentina also expatriated 43 Argentines who had been stranded in Israel.
The kosher meat market in the United States benefited as well, with the schoctim also processing over 420,000 pounds of kosher beef to be shipped to the US, the report said.
President of Argentina Alberto Fernández visited a kosher meat facility in Santa Rosa, a city 370 miles west of Buenos Aires on Friday.
“The plant located in Santa Rosa is already working to sell to the United States, increasingly interested in buying these meat cuts with added value,” a government statement said.
Argentina is the fifth-largest beef exporter in the world.