City tour, Jewish Sites and Sweets

Trip Start Feb 14, 2012
Trip End Mar 04, 2012

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Tuesday, February 21, 2012

We arrived early in the morning for our visit to Montevideo, Uruguay.  Uruguay is a small flat country bordered by the two giants, Argentina and Brazil.  It is often referred to as the "Switzerland of South America" because of its small size. The country is known as the grain belt because of the deep rich soil which produces high yields of grain crops.  The Pampas, as this bread basket of South America is known, is densely populated with areas of land left open for growing crops and raising large herds of cattle.  The uniqueness of the soil allows for the formation of many marshes and shallow lakes.  Uruguay is one of the world's great birding locations.

Like most of the continent, the country has a stormy, violent history thanks to its invasion by various European countries.  Through the efforts of statesman, Jose Batlle y Ordonez, in 1918, 400 years after it was first seen by Europeans, a constitution was adopted.  Uruguay has a well developed system for social services that include an 8 hour work day, paid holidays, legal divorce, separation of church and state, social security for seniors and many more.
Montevideo is a large city of almost two million people.  Half of the country's populace lives in the city.  Uruguay is different from other countries in the region, in that it has a lot of civic pride.   There are very few slums, and the city is well kept and neat in appearance.  We visited the beautiful Solis Theater, the Statue of Artigas, a national hero, who is known as the father of Uruguayan statehood.  The architecture is a mix of the different European cultures that make up the country's history.

Following the city tour, we began the Jewish Heritage tour.  Uruguay has a rich Jewish history and is quite proud that it was one of the first countries to recognize the State of Israel.  This half day tour took us to the famous Gurvich Museum, which celebrates the work of Lithuanian-born Jose Gurvich.  We drove through the Jewish quarter where we saw several synagogues and schools. Montevideo is home to a fully Kosher hotel, complete with Shabbat elevators.  We viewed Golda Meir Square and the old Shepardic Synagogue.  Our tour included the Jewish Center which is now the location for most Jewish life in the city.  The old synagogue is only used for the major holidays, weddings and Bat/Bar Mitzvahs, while all the social events and weekly services are held at the Center.

The Center, known as the Israelite Community of Uruguay, cares for the needs of the community. The Departments of the Center include a Volunteer Network, a Youth department, a Center for Employment, the Rabbinate Department, Department of Cultural Affairs, Adult Departments and Department of Social work which includes a focus on adults with disabilities.  The Center is very active in supporting seniors, the poor and disabled.  Allowances that provide basic food, housing and serious medical or mental conditions are given to those in need.  The disabled have many programs including baking challah for sale in the local markets.  We really enjoyed seeing these disabled adults baking challah.  The special needs population also sell crafts that they created. 
A highlight of the tour was the visit to the Holocaust Memorial, beautifully located overlooking the sea.  The memorial was elegant and meaningful in its simplicity.  Walking downward along the path of the memorial symbolized the victims descending to depths of horror and walking upward symbolized the survivors ascending in hope to a new life. 
The entire tour was very interesting and learning about this progressive country was a highlight of our trip.

We spent the afternoon wandering through the small shops located across from the pier.  We ventured into a factory outlet expecting to look at clothes, but it was the outlet for the famous Uruguayan  "Little Debbie" type cookie.  Of course, we had to have a tasting and enjoyed a nice lunch.  They spoke very little English, but by using their English and our little Spanish, we managed to get a delicious sandwich without tomatoes or bell peppers!  While we ate, we observed many people filling boxes with assorted flavors of little cakes.  We were amazed.

We meandered back to the ship past the Graf Spee Monument which is dedicated to the sinking, in the harbor, of the German battleship after the opening naval battle of WWII.  

At 5:30. we bid goodbye to an educational and tasty day in Montevideo.


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