By Marcia Bronstein
My grandfather couldn’t get directly to America and, like so many immigrants, he was forced to make a detour until he could get the needed paperwork to enter the U.S. in the early 20th century.
So Abraham Ruran, a 20-year-old printer from Poland, spent four years in Argentina. In 1995, I visited the address from his passport and paid tribute to his determination to live in a land openly and freely as a Jew. I was in Argentina as a Mandell Fellow — sent to aid the Jewish community in the AMIA aftermath — and I took that responsibility personally, as Argentina had opened its arms to my grandfather decades earlier.
My own involvement began when, in 1994, I was accepted into the first UJA Mandel Executive Development Program, a special three-year initiative to identify and train the next generation of large-city Jewish Federation executives. My daughter was less than 1 year old and my son was 4 when I went on a three-week mission to Argentina that took our group into the Buenos Aires community and put us face-to-face with the aftermath of the AMIA bombing.
I was moved by the devastation that the community suffered and the reality that all of Israel is responsible for one another. In the end, it’s up to the Jewish community to take care of the Jewish community. Spending time at the Argentine Israelite Mutual Aid Association, the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires where a bomb destroyed the building and killed 85 people and injured 300 more, was difficult, but I learned a lot about resilience from the people there.
AMIA had a 90-year history and was the hub of Jewish life in Argentina. The old brick building, with its black marble façade, housed myriad organizations (not unlike our Jewish Community Services building in Philadelphia): the health and insurance offices of AMIA, the community cemeteries administration, a theater, a library, a gallery, and a complete archival record of Jewish life in South America. The offices of DAIA, the umbrella organization of Jewish institutions in the country, were also located there.
The AMIA building was open to many groups, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. High unemployment plagued the country at the time, and hundreds of young job seekers were in the building to fill out forms at the job exchange and inquire about job postings that morning. Hundreds of Jewish communal professionals were at their desks ready to tackle the plethora of needs from food to housing to jobs.
Looking back on the details now, it seems eerily foreshadowing of things to come. The world was not focused on vans approaching buildings and detonating their heavy cargo. While Argentina had seen its share of terror in the late ’60s and ’70s, the AMIA bombing was something new — a terror attack aimed at killing as many innocent people as possible.
So there I was in Argentina because the explosion devastated not only the lives of those I came in contact with, but was felt deeply throughout the global Jewish community. It could have been any of us who chair committees, sit on boards of directors, send our kids to day schools or synagogue schools, participate in social action projects, support those in need around the world, and raise funds for Israel, or simply walk into a Jewish Community Services building.
It was a privilege to be one of the 21 Jewish communal professionals nationally chosen for the CJF/Mandel Executive Development Program and be given the opportunity to visit Argentina. As our core Jewish value states, all of Israel is responsible one for the other; and so it is most appropriate that we, as Jews and American citizens, continue to express concern and support for the nearly 1 million members of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community.
At AJC, we know too well that if any part of our community is wounded, we are all in pain. The weeks I spent with the leadership of AMIA and colleagues from the JDC, and my daily work, reinforce the message of kol Yisrael.
This year my daughter — the baby I left behind to go to Argentina — graduated from the University of Michigan and will be moving to New York to work on Wall Street, and still there is no justice for AMIA. Twenty-three years after that attack, and years of research by special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, of blessed memory, who died under questionable circumstances only hours before he was to present his findings, there still is no resolution.
I can’t help but think about those living in Buenos Aires, including my JDC and communal service colleagues (Bernardo, Monica, Norma and Enrique) who in 1994 asked that fellow Jews continue to keep this issue in the forefront. Please know, we will not give up or stop advocating.
Marcia Bronstein is the AJC’s regional director in Philadelphia.