I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but grew up in Montevideo, Uruguay where my family moved in 1984 to be closer to our grandparents who lived across the river in Buenos Aires. My father became the rabbi of the only progressive synagogue in the country, a congregation founded by “yekkes,” German Jews who immigrated to Uruguay in the early 20s and 30s. That period was influential for me personally and professionally. Let me explain.
The mid 80s was a thrilling time to grow up in Uruguay. The country was transitioning into a democracy after 12 years of a cruel dictatorship under a military junta. We lived, as most Jews, in an area called Pocitos: a dense urban neighborhood. The boundaries between work and home were virtually non-existent since my father used his home office to meet with congregants. I found it frustrating. To make things worse, every Shabbat and all holidays, we had multiple guests for dinner: people in need of a meal, widows, young families learning about traditions, professors, writers, bishops, ambassadors, even the president of Uruguay. In hindsight, my exposure to those conversations was a great privilege and a cherished memory.
As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time at the Temple, a true modern Bauhaus style building. The exterior of the building was discrete; it had concrete columns on the ground floor, continuous strips of windows on the upper floors, and an off-white plain façade.
In my teens, I became less interested in temple services and increasingly reluctant to socialize. I remember wandering around the building and hiding in the back staircases that connected the rear of the bimah with the upper floors. Clearly it was my first interaction with modern architecture and one that influenced me to become an architect!