'Miss Sefaradi' and 'Queen Esther': Sephardim, Zionism, and Ethnic and National Identities in Argentina, 1933-1971

Adriana M. Brodsky

Abstract


In 1940, Esther Bahbouth, a Sephardi young woman representing the Centro Sionista Sefaradí (CSS), won the title of ‘Reina Esther’ in the Purim contest organized in Buenos Aires by the Keren Kayemet Leisrael (KKL).1 The Se- phardic community was ecstatic; it was the first time a Sephardic young woman had won the coveted crown.2 In these early decades of the twentieth century, when Zionist activity among Sephardim was still being defined and organized, the victory of Esther Bahbouth carried significant weight for this minority. The relationship between the Centro Sionista Sefaradí and the local Federación Sionista Argentina (made up of Ashkenazi Zionists) was conflictive, even an- tagonistic, and the Sephardim complained bitterly about the way in which the ‘majority’ of the Argentine Jewish community treated them. A Sephardi young woman in the Zionist dais, they rejoiced, clearly signaled to the Ashkenazim their undeniable commitment to the Zionist project.3

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