When Menashe Skulnik came to Buenos Aires

by Editor on 16/09/2021

Yiddish archives expert Zachary Baker reads from Yiddish actor Menashe Skulnik’s memoir about his visit 1928 memorable visit to Buenos Aires.

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The Buried Story of Malka Abraham

by Editor on 19/11/2019

A former prostitute from Buenos Aires who moved to Tucuman and amassed her wealth as a money lender, Malka Abraham was murdered in 1957. Her last will to bequest her fortune to the Jewish community school and to be granted a proper burial in the Jewish cemetery, stirred up a heated controversy which divided the community.

In his interview, reading from his book The New Ethnic Studies in Latin America, Prof. Raanan Rein recaps her story for the Laid to Rest documentary project.

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Laid to Rest: Connecting Communities

by Editor on 19/11/2019

Last week I screened my film-in-progress “Laid to Rest” by invitation to a roomful of members and guests of B’nai Jeshurun synagogue in Manhattan’s Upper West. 

I couldn’t think of a better place to have the first public presentation of my latest work. The strong ties to Rabbi Marshall Meyer and to his legacy of social consciousness, are at the core of my film. Internationally recognized as a human rights activist, Rabbi Meyer worked in Argentina from 1958 to 1984 where he founded the Conservative Jewish movement at Templo Libertad. After two decades of civil rights and community work in Argentina during the “Dirty War”, Rabbi Meyer returned to the US to lead the B’nai Jeshurun community.

The first interview I filmed in Buenos Aires back in 2009 was with Argentine Rabbi Sergio Bergman of the Congregacion Israelita, also known as Templo Libertad and the first synagogue in Argentina founded in 1862. Rabbi Bergman stated the significance of Templo Libertad as the location where the decree to expel the clandestine organizations of Jewish sex traffickers was signed in 1901. 

The documentary film Laid to Rest uncovers a forgotten story of Jewish sex trafficking in Argentina between the 1880’s and the 1930’s. The unifying principle of this documentary is to give voice to the unknown and forgotten victims of sex trafficking and to highlight the various ways that a struggling small community of immigrants was able to utilize in its fight against a powerful trafficking organization. It draws parallels between the historical struggle of a Jewish immigrant community and today’s global sex trafficking problem. This film seeks to inform and educate on how a community fought back religiously and culturally, and prevailed. 

I first learned about the topic in 2003 during a visit to my husband’s family in Argentina. I was asked what I was working on. At that time, I was working on my film Past Forward on intergenerational transmission of Holocaust childhood memories, which I filmed in the US, Israel and the Ukraine. They asked, “why won’t you do something about here?” When I asked if there was anything interesting, they responded “las polacas”. Of course, then they had to explain that this was a derogatory term for “las prostitutas judías” which was simple enough to understand, even for non-Spanish speakers. 

In the pre-Google era, there wasn’t much information out there and almost nothing on the Internet. In 2009 I was awarded a Scholar-in-Residence grant from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute to start pre-production research for a documentary film on the topic of the historic Jewish sex trade. Since, as a resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, I have completed the production of this film as part of my general interest` and work on themes of culture and identity, gender and community action. 

While making this movie I faced a few challenges from the get go:

How do I tell a story that nobody wants told and nobody wants to tell? 

How do I overcome the reluctance of the community to expose a shameful taboo?

How do I construct a cinematic story when no audiovisual evidence remained? 

Even today sex trade and trafficking are obscure, not easily tracked, documented, or reported in mass media.

Next came storytelling style and editorial choices:

This type of story lends itself better to fiction than to documentary, since fiction is used to fill gaps in historical documentation and visual representation. However, that didn’t stop me from uncovering original sources, including some restricted materials that are not available to the public until 2028, yet are included in my film.

Telling a story in an unscripted, non-narrated style was another editorial choice, as was the decision to avoid re-enactment or dramatized scenes. Considering that many of the locations were in areas that are ‘muy peligroso’ – dangerous, hand-held camera and raw guerilla style shoots were often the only way to obtain footage, and it fits the storyline.

So, a Rabbi, a photojournalist, a film director, a novelist, and a couple of historians and actors go into a tango bar… They are the film’s storytellers. They are not related or connected, they are from different times, places, and ages. 

They all share their personal accounts on how they coincidentally stumbled on the obscure stories of the historic Jewish sex trade, that still looms dark and heavy over the Jewish community in Argentina. Their recollections shaped the storyline and created a fast-paced vibrant mesh that speaks loudly about women that had no voice, and a tragic tale that was never laid to rest. 

The film was shot in four continents – in Argentina, USA, Israel and Europe and in four languages – Spanish, English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. The film trails the archival documentation of the historic sex trade in many archives around the world – among them the Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem, IWO Buenos Aires, and YIVO NY, the League of Nations’ Archive in Geneva, Vienna Police Archive, London School of Economics, NYPL and Brandeis, and the Yiddish Book Center at Hampshire College. 

I filmed in Argentina between 2009 and 2010.  Three of my storytellers have since passed away:

Actor Max Berliner died last month at the young age of 100. His energy and charisma filled the screen and his numerous anecdotes brought to life ‘behind the scenes’ childhood memories of old Jewish Buenos Aires.                                                                                                                                                   

Tango and Culture expert Jose Judkovski, who said that he refused to discuss this topic until I approached him for an interview, passed in 2017. I came to talk to him about the brothel roots of the tango, but ended up with footage of his rare out of print copy of “The Trilogy of the White Trade” written in 1932 by the police commissioner who investigated cases of sex trade.

Actress Shifra Lerer died in 2012. Her interview with me must have been her last public interview. Reluctant at first, she later opened up to share recollections of herself as a 9-year old playing a role of an old sailor “with a wig and a beard glued on, and a hunchback” in the controversial 1926 Yiddish theater play about the topic of Jewish sex trafficking.

Following the screening, questions from the audience reflected the wide interest in this topic and its applicability to contemporary sex trafficking. Using community action to fight the phenomena has been critical back than as it is today. The Laid to Rest documentary gives voice to its victims as it highlights community action against the perpetrators. By doing so it brings to life a story that was never ”Laid to Rest”. 

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Remembering Rabbi Marshall Meyer in NY and in Bs.As.

by Editor on 10/11/2019

I couldn’t have thought of a better place to present and talk about my film Laid to Rest than to a full house at the B’nai Jeshurun synagogue in Manhattan, New York. And, I couldn’t have thought of a better way to connect the dots between two Jewish communities through the legacy of the late Rabbi Marshall Meyer . The strong ties to Rabbi Marshall Meyer and to his legacy of social consciousness, are at the core of this documentary. Internationally recognized as a human rights activist, Rabbi Meyer worked in Argentina from 1958 to 1984 where he founded the Conservative Jewish movement at Templo Libertad. After two decades of civil rights and community work in Argentina during the “Dirty War”, Rabbi Meyer returned to the US to lead the B’nai Jeshurun community. When interviewed for the film, Rabbi Sergio Bergman praised Rabbi Marshall’s for his many contributions to the Argentinean Jewish community.

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Fighting For Women’s Rights #internationalwomensday

by Editor on 8/03/2016

“Today it is so easy to take for granted all the progress we’ve made on these kinds of issues. But the fact is, today, so many of these rights are under threat from all sides, always at risk of being rolled back if we let our guard down for a single minute.”

“These rights were secured through long hard battles waged by women and men, who marched and protested and made their voices heard in courtrooms and boardrooms and voting booths and the halls of Congress. And make no mistake about it: education was central to every last one of these efforts.”

— Michelle Obama said today in reference to women’s issues in the U.S. The First Lady spoke to a crowd today at Union Market in Washington, D.C. for #InternationalWomensDay, marking the first anniversary of Let Girls Learn.


Posted by PBS NewsHour on Tuesday, March 8, 2016

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The Tragic Chronology of Global Trafficking

by Editor on 12/11/2015


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Raquel’s letter

by Editor on 29/10/2014

Dreaming of a better life in Argentina, the “Goldene Medinah”, a loving wife in Poland writes to her husband, asking that he hurry up and mail the necessary travel documents for her and their young children.

Letter and translation: Nora Glickman

Voice over: Annette Liberman Miller

Sound recording: Phil Skokos

With: Getz Media Lab, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, and Brandeis-Women’s Studies Research Center/SSP program

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Released: Trafficking in Persons Report 2014

by Editor on 20/06/2014

“We each have a responsibility to make this horrific and all-too-common crime a lot less common. And our work with victims is the key that will open the door to real change—not just on behalf of the more than 44,000 survivors who have been identified in the past year, but also for the more than 20 million victims of trafficking who have not.

As Secretary of State, I’ve seen with my own two eyes countless individual acts of courage and commitment. I’ve seen how victims of this crime can become survivors and how survivors can become voices of conscience and conviction in the cause.

This year’s Trafficking in Persons Report offers a roadmap for the road ahead as we confront the scourge of trafficking.”

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Laid to Rest in NYC

by Editor on 22/04/2013

Excellent program and engaging speakers and panelists at the UJA Federation of NY’s “We Were Slaves: the Jewish Community Unites Against Sex Trafficking” conference. A packed two-day event exploring the Jewish history and Jewish obligation to combat sex trafficking, the program provided essential information about modern day slavery and what can be done to stop it. A presentation and clips from the documentary-in-progress Laid to Rest: Buried Stories of the Jewish Sex Trade offered gripping historical perspectives on a shameful “buried” chapter of Jewish history and its unique characteristics, bringing to focus community action and cultural fight from within against the sex traders.


Presented by UJA-Federation of New York’s Task Force on Family Violence

Organized with:
AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps
Equality Now
FEGS Health and Human Services
Jewish Child Care Association of New York (JCCA)
The Jewish Community Center in Manhattan; Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty
Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program (SAVI)
National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW)
New York Board of Rabbis
New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG)
New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition
Project Kesher
Sanctuary for Families
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Uri L’Tzedek

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¡What a Whorehouse!

by Editor on 5/11/2012

When in Buenos Aires talk like a porteño… especially when stuck in traffic. Gustavo, a Buenos Aires native and Laid to Rest’s location producer explains:

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