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Special to the JTA Argentina’s Human Rights Leader to Be Honored by B’nai B’rith

A U.S-born rabbi who became Argentina’s leading fighter for human rights, who created one of that country’s largest and most active synagogues and who founded Latin America’s only rabbinical seminary will be honored by B’nai B’rith International during its biennial convention September 4 at the Sheraton Washington Hotel here.

He is Rabbi Marshall Meyer and he will receive B’nai B’rith’s Dor L’ Dor (Generation to Generation) Award for “outstanding achievements in the service of humanity, which uplift and ennoble us and generations to come.”

Meyer stood out from the pack even as a boy. A native of Norwich, Conn., he was an Eagle Scout who not only lettered in three sports but was an editor of his high school newspaper, active in his school and summer stock theater, winner of a state oratorical contest, and radio commentator on classical music.

Meyer attended Dartmouth College and Jewish Theological Seminary of America (where he was also the private secretary of Prof. Abraham Heschel) and studied for his doctorate — he completed all but his thesis — at both Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary. In 1959, he went to Argentina as rabbi for a large German synagogue in Buenos Aires. He intended to stay only two years but remained for 25; recently he became vice president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.

MULTI-VARIED ACTIVITIES IN ARGENTINA

In his first three years in Buenos Aires, Meyer built up youth involvement in the synagogue, established South America’s first religious education summer camp and founded Seminario Rabinico Latino-Americano.

Stating that he was unable to establish the kind of movement he wanted, Meyer resigned from the synagogue at the end of 1962 and founded Bet-el, a synagogue affiliated with the Conservative movement. During his 22-year stay there, Bet-el grew from the original 30 members to 1,000 families and has its own school system and large summer camp. A typical Friday night service attracts more than 1,000 persons, including hundreds of youths.

Meyer became involved in politics in 1966 when the military overthrew the government of President Artura Illia. The involvement grew steadily and by the mid-1970’s he was one of the most outspoken critics of human rights abuse. When the government of Maria Estela Peron collapsed into violence and virtual anarchy, the criticism intensified.

CRITIC OF HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE

Meyer condemned the violence and tried to learn what happened to the disappeared. He counseled victims’ families. He visited prisons to help the jailed, many of whom had not even been charged with any crime. One of the prisoners was Jacobo Timerman, the Jewish newspaper editor who later dedicated his book, “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, ” to Meyer.

He attacked the military, which had taken over the government, and assailed the widespread abuse of human rights. At the same time he helped to establish the nation’s largest human rights organization as well as the Argentine Jewish Movement for Human Rights.

Throughout those years of turmoil, his life — and the lives of his wife and three children — were threatened. Although many Jews in Argentina stood by him, others assailed him for his involvement in human rights issues, charging that he was needlessly making them targets of Jew haters. Some accused him of being a Communist; other claimed that he was a CIA agent. Meyer, of course, denied these accusations.

Today, 25 years after going to Argentina, Meyer, who maintained his U.S. citizenship, is back “home.” Life is likely to be much quieter and orderly but no one who knows Rabbi Marshall Meyer will bet that it won’t be lively or interesting.

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