The Jewish community in Argentina is one of the largest in the world. Jewish immigrants first arrived in Argentina with the founding of the new continent and continued to immigrate to the country ever since. The vast majority of the Jews who came to Argentina are Ashkenazi, from Central and Eastern Europe. This active social group of Argentines has left its traces in local culture from the very beginning. AMIA, the Mutual Association Israelite Argentina, is the community support organization for all Jews in Argentina, tracing its roots back to 1894. Everything changed with the terrorist attack of July 18th, 1994 [believed to have been carried out by Hezbollah, supported by Iran], against AMIA in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“Because we have memory, we demand justice” — AMIA
The AMIA headquarters building at Pasteur 633. July 18th, 1994. 9:53 a.m. A big explosion, followed by a huge cloud of smoke and dust, destroyed 85 lives, 85 stories, 85 families.
In seconds, it devastated the head office of the iconic Jewish organization in Argentina, and everything that surrounded it. Panic. Ambulances. People running. Shattered glass fell off windows and covered the streets. The cries from the crowd were a mixture of miracles and tragedies of destiny. Deaths by the dozen. Death. Death. Severely injured people carried to medical institutions. As a spontaneous reaction, hundreds of volunteers showed up to help, comfort, share the crying. The community needed to reorganize. The building on Ayacucho 632 began to function as the site where families met to seek information about the victims of the attack, as well as the head office of AMIA.
Soon, AMIA resumed its essential operations, especially those pertaining social services.
The community, in the midst of such tremendous pain, responded. 85 deadly victims. More than 300 injured. A building containing all of the Jewish history in Argentina destroyed. A wound that remains open till today. The most horrible anti-Jewish act after World War II occurred in Argentina, on Pasteur 633.
It was on the 18th of July, 1994, at 9:53 AM.
“And thou shalt tell it to thy son… thy fellow man”
“…And thou shalt choose life…”
Source for the above information: http://www.amia.org.ar
“The attack on AMIA was an attack on all of society”
Our visit to the new AMIA headquarters building was much more challenging than we had expected. When walking up Pasteur (street) — the same Pasteur as in the “Pasteur – AMIA” subway station [see above photos] — to the entrance of AMIA’s building, we were warned by policemen not to stand anywhere near the entrance and not to take photographs. Entering the security line was as tough (perhaps tougher) than getting through an El Al Airlines security screening. We had to present passports, go through a metal detector, be interrogated and patted down (I have a metal hip replacement) and then made to wait quite a while in a holding room for our AMIA-employee guide to come down to meet us (four Americans and one Argentinian city guide).
Visitors are greeted in the courtyard by a stunning vertical, multi-paneled sculpture by Yaacov Agam, “Monument to the Memory of the Victims of the Terrorist Attack on AMIA 18 July 1994”. Depending on where one stands, there are four different “positions” — actually paintings which come together in a three-dimensional image when standing at just the right spot. The photographs illustrate two of these views, with the memorial to the 85 victims on the far wall.
AMIA was born as Chevra Kadisha in 1894, whose first activities focused on developing the necessary conditions to observe the Jewish tradition. One of its first actions was the foundation of a community cemetery. This action entailed the legitimation of the Jewish presence as a constituent minority of the Argentinean society. Soon, its activities grew, multiplied and diversified with the successive immigration flows. As from the 1920s, with the increase of Jewish population in Argentina and its progressive integration to society, AMIA became the space where all the Jewish people of Argentina could come together and participate. Its historical house in Pasteur 633, which opened in 1945, reflected the drive of its development. The memory of the 85 people who were killed when the building was bombed in 1994, the hundreds of injured and the survivors of this massive slaughter, remains alive. The creative drive of a community willing to preserve the heritage of a cultural tradition that honors life and prioritizes justice settled on the debris. In 1999, AMIA’s new building was inaugurated on the same site, at Pasteur 633.