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November 18, 1994 - Image 72

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

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the reaction of the people. I know they aren't anti-
Semitic, but that they are afraid."

Confronting The Fear


he Jews of Buenos Aires understand the
fear because they share it. They are ter-
rified for themselves, for their children.
A certain number want to distance them-
selves from Jews, too. The drop-off at community
centers has been major, and community centers
are the social/cultural hubs of Buenos Aires Jew-
ish life. Most children who attend Jewish schools
— close to 50 percent of the population — have so
far remained. But this is not as reassuring as it
might appear. Since seasons in Argentina are the
exact reverse of ours, the school year ends this
month, and few parents wished to withdraw their
children so late in the term. The real dropout rate will not
show up until the next school year, which begins in March.
Argentinians are a deeply introspective people who
have made psychoanalysis nearly a national obsession.
Dealing with the fear — along with all the other reactions
that sprang from the morning of July 18 — has been a top
priority. Dr. Carlos Schenquerman, a psychologist who
has specialized in dealing with trauma (he worked with
the survivors of the Mexican earthquake), was called in
as a consultant by Jewish leaders three days after the
bombing. He set up an extensive program to provide psy-
chological help, both individual and group, to all those af-
fected, directly and indirectly, neighbors, rabbis, teachers,
rescue workers.
Some of the young volunteers eventually came to see
the bombing of AMIA as being akin to the destruction of
the Temple in Israel. "They said, 'It is the place of de-
struction, but also the place of hope, for the future,' " Dr.
Schenquerman said. Each felt they carried part of the
building with them, inside, he said.
A number of the young children had the same prag-
matic reaction at first, he said. "They told their parents,
`Why don't we go live in another place and not say we are
Jewish?' " One little girl burst into tears, staring at a mir-
ror. "She said, 'Mama, I look too much Jewish. You can
see it in my face.' "
Therapy — talking, discussing, helping people to put feel-
ings into words — can provide only part of the answer.
Strengthening Jewish identity also is important, Dr. Schen-
querman said. Others agreed. "Being Jewish is not a choice
for our children," said Andres Spoikony, who directs an after-
school Jewish program at Hebraica Community Center. "It's
an important part of their identity, so they have too much to
lose." He has made a special attempt, though, in the past
months "to show them how nice it can be, that being Jewish
is not just being a victim, that it means singing nice songs,
having a great history."
Rabbi Mauricio Balter headed the team of rabbis who helped
with identification of bodies. Like most parents, he found him-
self confronting the issue of fear with his children. In the days
just after the bombing, his 10-year-old daughter worried aloud
about going to Shabbat services.
"I said, 'Where are you going to feel less fear? Staying at
home, in the house, or being together with everyone at the
synagogue?' " She understood, he said.
Or so he thought. But weeks later, when he came out of his
house one day to find his car had been broken into, his daugh-
ter became hysterical, pointing at the yarmulkes on the seat.
"She said, 'Papa, now they will know! They will know and
come for us!' " It is not always easy, he admitted sadly, to know
what is going on below the surface with children.
For many the fear — terror, really — remains. "If you're
afraid of something specific, you can be alert, you know what
you're afraid of," said Dr. Schenquerman. "If you're scared
of a dog, you stay away from dogs. But with this kind of thing,
you don't know when, or where, or who. And this is the terror."
On an October afternoon, three 11-year-old girls sat over a


Alberto and Sophia Guterman sit
behind pictures of their
daughter, Andrea, 28,
killed in the explosion.

Three friends at Hebraica
discuss their fears.

The scene at Pasteur Street,
the day of the bomb.

board game in a playroom at Hebraica, a few blocks from the
bomb site. Hebraica, with a membership of 1,000, is one of the
largest community centers in the city. 'The aim of the founders
was to provide everybody with everything at every time,"
explained one of the workers. With a theater, library, sports
center and fully equipped gym, ongoing lectures, classes, day
care, after-school care, even a cafe and bar, it comes close.
This day, though, many rooms were empty. Most of their
friends no longer came here after school, the girls explained;
their parents were too scared. Before, nearly everyone they
knew had. They, however, they insisted bravely, were not too
scared to come.
"At first I was afraid," said one, a blonde with an elfin face,
and nearly perfect English honed on a recent trip to Ameri-
ca. "I felt it would happen again. But now I know people [ter-
rorists] want me to be afraid, and I don't want to make them
"I was very scared," admitted her friend, who has long glow-
ing red hair. "I thought someone would put a bomb here. But
— they say we have to keep living. Sometimes in life there
are bad things ..."
"My father said, 'Don't be afraid, but look out,' " said the
first. "A lot of people left. Now only the brave people are here."
None expected the investigation to come up with any an-
swers. "In this country it is very difficult, the police are all...not
good," said the redhead. Her English ran out; she turned to
her friend, murmuring in Spanish.
"She thinks the people who made this must now be very far
from here. They are not stupid," the blonde translated.
The third, who with her dark hair and eyes was the only
traditionally Hispanic-looking one of the group, sat quietly,

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