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November 18, 1994 - Image 71

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-11-18

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Lichtenbaum, the new head of the library, had spent Sun-
day participating in a radio show. He allowed himself a
little leeway in getting to work that Monday, planning to
arrive at 10 a.m. It saved his life.
Andi Rujinsky, 22, who lived nearby, had a job inter-
view at AMIA but called to say she would be a little late,
since her father was ill. Just before she left, the explosion
shook the walls of her house. It sounds like a bomb, her
father called to her. "You're joking," she answered.
Damian Fullman's AMIA office was being moved to
another building; the 24-year-old was working in the
second building when the bomb exploded. He, like every-
one else, ran out to the street. His parents, hearing the
first radio reports and unsure in which building their son
was at that time, rushed frantically down to the bomb site.
There, in the midst of the chaos, they saw a true miracle:
their son running toward them, arms outstretched, alive,
unharmed.
There are other stories, too, eerie ones. One young man,
dazed, began at once to help with the rescue, moving like
an automaton, lifting stones, struggling to remove bodies.
It was three days before he suddenly came to, fully, and
called his family to say he was alive. A young woman
wandered the streets, half conscious, for close to a week.
Finally, sitting in a cafe, she saw scenes of the bomb site
flickering on TV, and was jolted into full consciousness.
And then there are the stories of loss. The two teen-
age boys who had gone down to AMIA to buy a burial
site for their grandfather, who had just died. Both were
killed. The mother who left her daughter in the office for
a moment while she ran down the street to pick up a
soda, returning to find the building, and her life,
destroyed.
"I think I knew 60 from the 80 or 90 people who died,"
said Avram Lichtenbaum, speaking slowly, heavily. "Stu-
dents from my high school worked in this building. Emo-
tionally, this building was for me ... 40 years from my
life. I learned, I studied, I was a teacher there. A lot of
my works I did in the library. This was the center of
Jewish culture in Buenos Aires."
"I lost friends," said Andi Rujinsky, in a low voice, her
eyes very dark against her pale face. "One very close one,
who was working there a long time. His mother worked
there, too. She ran out alive. He was her only son, 21
years old. She is ... not good. So. What can I tell you? It
was tough. It is tough." As her face drops lower, her long
black hair falls in front, like a shield.
In such a situation, the very idea of luck takes on a
new dimension. Mr. Slutsky's son, Pablo, thinks he is
lucky. "He knew many of the people who died, because he
would visit my office," his father said. "He tells his friends
he is lucky to have a father. He says, am lucky. I don't
have to say Kaddish."

In the first days, much of the community — like Mr.
Slutsky — was galvanized by the demands of the crisis.
Thousands showed up to offer assistance, at the bomb site,
at hospitals, at the nearby building on Ayacucho Street
that was hastily set up as a center. Young people in their
teens and 20s worked round the clock, lifting stones,
recovering bodies, serving coffee, manning phones — any-
thing to help. An Israeli team, complete with two dogs,
arrived 48 hours later; they immediately organized the
rescue helpers into groups.
Many were able to freeze their emotions for the effort.
"I put a block on myself," said Dr. Ruben E. Beraja, Buenos
Aires' top Jewish leader. "Like a surgeon." Rabbis tended
to the stricken families, helping them through the process
of identifying the dead. So many psychologists begged to
be allowed to offer their services that they had to be turned
away in droves.
One of the rare bright spots in those early weeks con-
cerned the library. First reports had said that the AMIA

Dr. Ruben
E. Beraja,
head of
organized
Buenos
Aires
Jewry:
"I put a
block on
myself,
like a
surgeon."

archives had been completely destroyed, along with the
entire library of some 100,000 books. In fact, the room con-
taining most of the archives had been left almost intact,
and volunteers were able to retrieve more than half of the
library books.
Jews were heartened by the initial response of the city's
non-Jews. "'We are all Jews today," read signs at the
he 50-year-old AMIA building (Asociacion Mutual massive demonstration, over 100,000 strong, held in the
Israelita Argentina), located in the city's oldest pouring rain three days later at the Plaza de Congress.
Jewish neighborhood, was the soul of the Buenos Many in the crowd wore yellow Jewish stars pinned to
Aires Jewish community, housing offices of social their clothes. President Carlos Menem, the first Argen-
assistance, the 100-year-old funeral records department, tine president to ever visit Israel, stood at the podium.
the archives of Argentina's Jewish history. It was a Ashen faced, visibly shaken, he was unable to speak.
To Americans, this may seem an unlikely picture. After
powerful symbol, one for which it would be difficult to find
all, this is a country that gave asylum to Nazis; where
the North American equivalent.
Andres Spoikony, 26, struggled to explain. "It would be Josef Mengele lived for many years, where Adolf Eich-
mann finally was tracked down. But Argentina is a land
like blowing up Parliament," he said finally.
Twenty-nine people had died when the Israeli Embassy of many contradictions. President Juan Peron, for instance,
was bombed two years ago. But the community reaction the man who opened the gates to the Nazis after the war,
was vastly different. The first bomb was seen as a strike also welcomed in thousands of Jewish refugees. "There
against Israel, a country permanently at war, involved in are anti-Semites here," one woman said. They are found
in the police, in the military, in the intelligence service,
a difficult quest for peace. Not them.
This bomb was aimed straight at them, the Jews of at the highest reaches of government. "But this is not
Buenos Aires. Whoever picked AMIA as a target knew an anti-Semitic country." Her words were echoed by
what they were doing. Not a Jew in this city of 10 million many.
Certainly it did not seem so in the days after AMIA.
failed to receive the message: you are all at risk.

A Symbol Destroyed

Non-Jews offered their time, money, physical effort, even
blood. Along with Jews they poured into the bomb site on
Pasteur Street within minutes of the first announcement,
stayed for hours, sometimes days. At Temple Emanuel,
which had been set up as a clearinghouse for volunteers,
they showed up — neighbors, taxi drivers, housewives.
"What can we do, how can we help?" they pleaded.
But with the passing of days came the fear. The gov-
ernment, cooperating with the Jewish community, erected
barriers in front of every Jewish institution in town, clubs,
centers, temples, newspaper offices — first heavy barrels,
linked by chains, then permanent concrete blocks. Cops
were stationed at every door. It escaped no one's notice
that these new measures, meant to protect, also broad-
cast exactly where those institutions were, reminding
everyone of the danger.
The investigation dribbled on. Various persons of
Mideast nationality were picked up, then released for lack
of evidence. Given the lack of tangible information, the

rumor mill raged out of control.
Then in August, almost one month to the day later,
President Menem announced he had information that
another bombing was about to take place. The skies filled
with helicopters, the streets with cops, as people cowered
in their homes. Everyone knew both Israeli and Ameri-
can intelligence had been cooperating with the govern-
ment. Surely they must be responsible for this new
information. No one doubted the reality of the threat.
The bomb did not go off. But damage had been done.
The new threat, coupled with the barriers, the heightened
security measures, proved too much to ignore. Jews were
at risk — and the closer non-Jews stayed, the more at risk
they were, too. Sporting clubs canceled games with Jewish
clubs. Neighbors drew back. Landlords refused to rent to
Jewish institutions looking for more secure housing.
To people in North America such occurrences sound
anti-Semitic. To the Jews of Buenos Aires, they are all too
understandable. "You have to understand what people do
out of fear," a Jewish high school senior explained to a
visiting group of American Jews. Dr. Beraja, head of the
community, said much the same thing. "Sometimes if
someone's sick, people stay some distance, no?" he said,
speaking from behind his desk in the plush offices of his
Buenos Aires bank. "And I think we must be compre-
hensive about this. I said to the media, 'I understand

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