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25 years after Jewish center was bombed in Buenos Aires, Miami’s community doesn’t forget

David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, said “We have the right to demand justice, or else the victims will have been twice murdered” during his remarks Tuesday night at Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus in North Miami Beach. The synagogue commemorated the 25th anniversary of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in downtown Buenos Aires, which killed 85 and injured hundreds of others, making it the deadliest attack in Argentina’s Jewish community.
David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, said “We have the right to demand justice, or else the victims will have been twice murdered” during his remarks Tuesday night at Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus in North Miami Beach. The synagogue commemorated the 25th anniversary of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in downtown Buenos Aires, which killed 85 and injured hundreds of others, making it the deadliest attack in Argentina’s Jewish community.

On the morning of July 18, 1994, at 9:53 a.m., a terrorist detonated a car bomb inside the AMIA Jewish Community Center in downtown Buenos Aires. The explosion turned the building into a mound of rubble — claiming the lives of 85 people and injuring 300.

On Tuesday night, nearly 25 years to the day of the attack, members of Argentina’s Jewish population, the largest in Latin America — gathered in a commemorative event at the Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus in North Miami Beach. They were joined by representatives of more than 50 South Florida Jewish organizations, Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, and delegates from South Florida’s consulates, including Argentina’s and Israel’s.

“As a rabbi, I participated in more than 20 funerals of the people we remember today, and I still recall being in the place where the attack happened, surrounded by debris, trying to identify bodies before they were taken to the morgue,” said Beth Torah Rabbi Mario Rojzman, a Buenos Aires native. “The bomb explodes again when we realize the deep impunity that surrounded and still surrounds this case.”

Throughout the night two emotions filled the crowd: sadness over the lives lost, and frustration with the lack of accountability for those behind the attack, despite evidence linking the bombing to the Iranian government and its proxy group, Hezbollah.

Earlier this year, two Argentine officials, including a former federal judge, were convicted for covering up evidence in the case — but the principals behind the attack are still at large, even though Interpol has issued at least five arrest warrants targeting Iranian citizens.

Although rituals of remembrance and demands for justice have become a worldwide tradition every year around this time, diplomatic maneuvering in Buenos Aires is giving the 25th anniversary of the attack added significance.

On Thursday, Argentine President Mauricio Macri signed an executive order declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization, making Argentina the first Latin American country to take that step.

The designation is, according to La Nacion, a product of a joint demand from the Israel and U.S. governments. It would allow Argentina to enforce a wide range of political and financial restrictions on Hezbollah members.

Hezbollah’s designation coincided with a short visit to Buenos Aires by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, one of the main hawks behind the Trump administration’s Iran policy. Pompeo was in Argentina on Friday to pay tribute to the AMIA victims, as well as to take part in an anti-terrorism summit.

Back at Beth Torah, news of Argentina being on the brink of labeling Hezbollah a terrorist group drew a big round of applause.

“I want to thank President Macri for moving forward and declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization,” said Rojzman, the rabbi.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC), a global Jewish advocacy organization, co-hosted Tuesday night’s event. Juan Dircie, its associate director for National Latino Outreach, explained why Hezbollah’s terrorism designation matters.

“Hezbollah operates freely in the region — we all know about its relationship with Venezuela — so it’s a regional player. And if we give it a message of impunity, we risk letting it become a big source of danger for the entire continent,” he said.

For Dircie, securing justice for Argentina’s Jewish community, isn’t just a way to pay tribute to the AMIA victims. It’s necessary to deter future attacks.

“Argentina’s failure to solve the bombings makes it seem like a soft target, like a vulnerable point,” he said. “Because countries that can’t respond with justice are countries that, sadly, have very uncertain futures. That’s the reality.”

Among the people in the crowd at Beth Torah was Lidia Starobisky. She was in Buenos Aires when the bomb went off, in a doctor’s office, but has been living in the United States for 19 years.

“I’ve come to this event every year since I moved here. For me, it’s a moral obligation to be here,” she said. “Here, the broader Latino community has started to learn [about the AMIA bombing] and we Argentines have started telling them about it. It’s something they have to know about. It’s important.”

For Argentina-born Gastón Bogomolni, the AMIA attack hit close to home.

“I was 16 years old and the memories are awful. It was a big bomb. We felt the walls and windows shake [in our house]. My brother went to college close to the AMIA building, and several people I knew were assassinated that day,” he said. “As soon as it happened, we all ran to the building, to the rubble, to help.”

Those painful memories return whenever Bogomolni finds himself back in Buenos Aires, and back in the AMIA’s new building. But he’s still hopeful for closure.

“There’s always hope,” he said. “We can’t give up on justice.”

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed a resolution, introduced by South Florida Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, condemning the attack on the Jewish center.

“Twenty-five years later, anti-Semitism continues to threaten the lives of Jewish communities throughout Latin America, around the world, and even here in the United States,” said Deutch on the House floor. “With this vote, Congress honors the victims of this horrific attack ... and calls for full accountability for those responsible. It has been far too long.”

Lautaro Grinspan is a bilingual reporter at the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald. He is also a Report for America corps member. Lautaro Grinspan es un periodista bilingüe de el Nuevo Herald y del Miami Herald, así como miembro de Report for America.
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