Its hallowed walls smeared with sordid anti-Semitic graffiti after being taken over by squatters for the past two decades, one of Buenos Aires’s oldest synagogues has been reclaimed through the efforts of a local Chabad-Lubavitch emissary, backed by an order of law issued by a municipal judge.

The synagogue, which opened in 1907 as one of the first in Argentina, is located in the La Boca area, the city’s original port, where its first European Jewish immigrants settled.

Rabbi Shneur Mizrahi, who co-directs a Chabad center and another synagogue in the nearby Barracas area of the Argentinian capital with his wife, Abigail, celebrated the legal victory in an emotional prayer service, when the Torah was read for the first time in decades against the backdrop of a destroyed holy ark and cracked synagogue walls, still covered in anti-Jewish epithets.

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A mezuzah was affixed to the synagogue entrance by Rabbi Tzvi Grunblatt, director of Chabad-Lubavitch in Argentina, followed by the morning prayer service and Torah reading.

At the end of the service, the congregation broke into the evocative Jewish hymn, “Ani Ma’amin,” once sung by Jewish Holocaust victims as they marched towards their deaths. It pledges belief in the coming of Moshiach (the Messiah), no matter what level of challenge must be faced.

The property, abandoned nearly 20 years ago, had been taken over unlawfully upon the death of its caretaker by a group who turned it into an underground club, calling it “The House of Stars” cultural center in an apparent mockery of existing Stars of David. “For 20 years, they had parties, there were drugs, and two people died there,” Mizrahi told Chabad.org.

Opened in 1907 as one of the first in Argentina, the synagogue is located in the La Boca area, the city’s original port, where its first European Jewish immigrants settled.
Opened in 1907 as one of the first in Argentina, the synagogue is located in the La Boca area, the city’s original port, where its first European Jewish immigrants settled.

A Joint Effort With Argentina Officials

“The law in Argentina is that whoever gains possession of a property, it is hard to make them leave,” he said. The miracle, related the rabbi, is that after failed attempts to work out the situation amicably outside of court, “the judge made an order to evict them.”

City police and security cleared the building following orders from the Justice Ministry, based on a lawsuit filed by Mizrahi.

The building was recovered “due to the joint efforts of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the city, the city’s Ministry of Justice and Security, and Chabad Lubavitch of Argentina,” Deputy Secretary of Justice Hernan Najenson said in a statement.

The synagogue's ark was empty of Torah scrolls.
The synagogue's ark was empty of Torah scrolls.

Amid a protracted process this summer to gain possession of the synagogue that will be operated by Chabad, Mizrahi said he flew with his wife and two of his children to the Ohel in Queens, N.Y., the resting place of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—on the 25th anniversary of his passing. “We went for a blessing and in a little more than a month, this great miracle happened,” he said.

Mizrahi said the first order of business of an estimated $300,000 restoration process was to put up a strong new door to guard against further intrusion. The next step was to invite all who helped in the successful campaign to participate in the ceremonious mezuzah-hanging for continued spiritual protection.

The rabbi noted that a 36-hour fundraising drive for the overall project is scheduled to launch on Sept. 10.

Sordid anti-Semitic grafitti on the synagogue walls.
Sordid anti-Semitic grafitti on the synagogue walls.
Remaining stained glass in the synagogue's interior. An entire renovation is being planned.
Remaining stained glass in the synagogue's interior. An entire renovation is being planned.
Much of the interior has been defaced.
Much of the interior has been defaced.
Rabbi Shneur Mizrahi, right, and community members return a Torah scroll to the synagogue.
Rabbi Shneur Mizrahi, right, and community members return a Torah scroll to the synagogue.
Prayers on Tisha B'Av
Prayers on Tisha B'Av
Rabbi Shneur Mizrahi and his mother with the new mezuzah, which was affixed to the building.
Rabbi Shneur Mizrahi and his mother with the new mezuzah, which was affixed to the building.
Raising the Torah after reading
Raising the Torah after reading