Mr. Spoikony hoped that perhaps, as the community
until the girls were asked what message they would like ments to work the land not unlike the ones springing up
to regroup, they might find themselves looking
to send to the United States. She spoke briefly in Span- in Palestine.
for religious answers. Mr. Zelcer was far from certain.
ish in low tones, then ran from the room in tears. The
"This community was in crisis before the bomb," he said.
ed toward the cities, overwhelmingly the huge port of
others fell silent. A photographer explained:
During the military regime, it grew closer — a large num-
"She said Tell them Argentina is a little country where
counterparts, grew up to be professionals, lawyers, teach- ber of Jews were among the disappeared. But with the re-
terrible things happen.' "
ers, doctors. But the beliefs, and the Zionism of the ear- turn of democracy, and a safer, saner atmosphere, there
liest settlers, were handed down with remarkable success. has been a gradual loosening of ties, he believes.
The bomb fused the community together once again,
Jews in Argentina today are strongly identified with
Israel; an estimated 60,000 have made aliyah. They are fiercely. But Mr. Zelcer does not believe this effect will
t is the rare North American who knows much about deeply knowledgeable about Jewish history. The children last, because of another Argentine characteristic: The
this Latin American country, the rare American Jew who attend one of the 70 Jewish schools in the city study ability to forget.
"People forget very, very fast here," he said.
who knows anything about its Jewish community at Hebrew all the way through, emerging fluent. They have
"It's a side of the Argentine people, including Jewish,"
all. Argentina means the tango, gauchos, the musi- a firmly rooted sense of Jewish identity.
Mr. Spoikony. "We rapidly forget. In one way that's
They are also almost completely secular.
regime that ruled from 1977 to 1983, about the terrorist
"This is so hard for me to explain to my American good, it allows you to go on. But in another way everything
squads and the disappearances; that there is now once friends," said Andres Spoikony. "The fact that people are goes into the air."
The ability was honed during the military years. "Dur-
secular doesn't mean they are assimilated. They have a
again a democracy.
We know, in other words, almost nothing.
very strong Jewish identity, it's just not related to the re- ing this time, you have an incredible sensation," Mr. Zelcer
explained. "You know ... and you don't know. You are con-
Perhaps this is one reason why the bombing received ligious aspects of Judaism"
so little attention up here. There was also the matter of
Mr. Spoikony himself is now taking classes at the Rab- scious and you are not conscious."
Nearly everyone over a certain age knew people among
the body count: it took days of digging in the rubble be- binical Seminary, a school of Conservative Judaism be-
fore the true number was known. By then the world had gun by the late American Rabbi Marshall Meyer, who also the disappeared. "You have the possibility to do something
moved on. The fact that this was the single worst
case of terrorism to ever occur in Argentina, pos-
sibly the single worst anti-Semitic act since World
War II, seemed somehow, like so many things, to
have been lost in the wreckage.
Argentinians understand all this. There is a
strong streak of fatalism running through the
Argentine character. Some call it apathy. In
Argentina, problems rarely have solutions, ques-
tions rarely have answers. Few of the military
leaders responsible for the disappearances were
brought to trial; not long ago President Menem
issued a blanket pardon for all the rest. The bomb-
ing of the Israeli Embassy remains unsolved two
years later. Dr. Beraja was only stating the obvious
in a news conference after the AMIA bombing. "In what it means
all walks of life, there is a certain impunity in
to be a Jew
Argentina," he said. `Things tend to go unpunished."
This time, he added, "we are demanding results."
But there is no real reason to think this time will
be any different, and few people do.
"Like always, it begins with a lot of information
circulating around," said Bernardo Zelcer, Argen-
tine director of the American Jewish Joint Distrib-
ution Committee. "Someone has the solution. But
the next day, it begins to lose the tension. It brings
a sense of desperation, demoralization. And if you
have a lot of situations like this, the final consequence is, founded the city's only Conservative synagogue, Temple if you accept to be killed," said Mr. Zelcer, quietly. "Some
you don't ask for solutions. You begin to be passive, Bethel. But he is still non-traditional, he hastened to add. did accept. And some were killed.
"And this is part of our history, this is in our memory."
apathetic. And this is a very important phenomenon here." When he first began studying, he attempted to orches-
Another Jewish Argentinian, speaking privately,
For Jews as well as non-Jews. "Jewish societies are like trate a real seder in his family for the first time, with mixed
the general society in each country," said Mr. Zelcer. "We results. "Basically everybody just got together and had painted a graphic picture of that time. "You would be sit-
are more similar to the general society here than we are a big meal," he said. Yet his mother has taught in a Jewish ting in a restaurant and the military would arrive. Four
school her entire life. "In my house we never lit a candle of them, always four, carrying their guns. They would lock
to your society."
Which is odd, in a way, because one of the first things Friday night. But all the history of the Jewish people was the door, and then march down the aisles, checking every-
that strikes you is how much they look like us. Most of present at home. We talked, we discussed, all the one's identification papers. Then they would grab some
people and take them out.
Argentina's Jews are Ashkenazi, the children and grand- time."
"And you would continue to eat. Very quietly, eyes on
children of Eastern European immigrants who came from
There is a small Orthodox community in the city. The
plate. Not looking up."
the same small villages so many of our ancestors came Lubavitches have a center there as well. But the vast
Another time, he and his wife had seen lights on their
from. It is not just a nicety to declare, as one American majority of Jews go to synagogue mainly for weddings,
rabbi recently did on a visit to a Buenos Aires school, that funerals, bar mitzvahs, High Holidays (unlike America, street late at night, and peered out to see officers arrest-
"you are our cousins." Often it is probably the literal truth. tickets are not required). Ham has found its way onto more ing a neighbor. "We went back to bed," he said. "And we
than one bar mitzvah menu, and very few deny them- slept."
"Everything happens, nothing is remembered," wrote
selves the non-kosher beef that is Argentina's pride.
Luis Borges, Argentina's most famous author, in
"Here, people don't affiliate with synagogues. They go
his poem "Mirrors." He was speaking about many things
till, there were some differences right from the
besides mirrors, of course, but as always, the most
start. In many ways the Jewish immigrants who Spoikony. "They affiliate with Jewish clubs and commu- mportant subject was the one closest to his heart — the
arrived in Argentina during the great wave around nity centers."
The similarity, perhaps, is not so much to American nature of Argentina itself.
the turn of the century were more socialistic, more
So the AMIA bombing has given rise to a special prob-
radically inclined. Many, deeply committed to Zionism, Jews, but to Argentinian Catholics, who attend Catholic lem: How do you get people to remember, when forgetting
saw the broad pampas of Argentina as a perfect opportu-
is something they do so well?
nity to try out the grand blueprint — they formed settle- and holidays.
Little Known Land
A Secular Society