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Argentine Jewish Community Picks Up the Pieces After Devastating Blast

Amid continuing grief and shock over the bomb explosion that claimed at least 27 lives and destroyed its central headquarters, the local Jewish community here was determined to pick up the pieces and move on.

On Monday, the same day that the explosion blew up the building housing the offices of the Jewish Kehilla, or Jewish community organizations, new offices in a neighboring community center began functioning in an effort to provide continued services to the Jewish community.

Alberto Crupnicoff, president of AMIA, the community’s 100-year-old main social service agency, said that although its home had been destroyed, the Kehilla has its doors open in a new location so “our grandchildren can celebrate AMIA’s 200th anniversary.”

Still, the community was left reeling after the bomb almost leveled the seven-story building as employees were arriving for work just before 10 a.m. local time Monday. An estimated 100 people were inside the building at the time.

Besides those killed, at least 127 people were injured in the attack, including passersby. Seventy people were still unaccounted for as of late Tuesday.

The death toll was expected to rise as workers sifted through the rubble. Among those killed were two police officers in a car stationed outside the building as a security measure.

The blast echoed the one that demolished the Israeli Embassy here in March 1992.

No one was ever tried for that attack, which killed 30 and injured 250. At the time of that bombing, the Islamic Jihad in Beirut issued a statement claiming responsibility.

In this latest attack, a group calling itself Islamic Command called a local radio station to take responsibility.

Two foreigners were reportedly arrested in connection with the attack as they were trying to leave the country Monday, but were later released. Government officials on Tuesday said that a third foreigner, an Iraqi, was still being held.

In Israel, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called the attack “a cowardly, criminal, despicable act.”

He blamed Islamic extremists sponsored by Iran for the attack. He called on the international community “to strike at this viper and crush its skull.” Iranian officials in Teheran denied any involvement in the bombing.

ISRAEL DISPATCHES RESCUE UNIT

An Israeli air force cargo jet left Israel early Tuesday morning on a 20-hour flight to Buenos Aires, with 50 members of an emergency disaster rescue unit and their equipment, to help the Argentinians sift through the rubble at the bomb site.

The blast sent ripples of fear and anger throughout the Argentine Jewish community of 220,000, the largest in South America, which had barely recovered from the 1992 attack on the embassy.

The two blasts produced the same anguished shock, the same acts of good will on the part of members of the community and the same gnawing sense of insecurity.

But this time, the mood was different because the hurt and the rage was more evident among some members of the Jewish community and its leaders.

“Solidarity is not enough, we demand results. We must know who is guilty and it’s the government’s duty to catch them,” Ruben Beraja, president of DAIA, the umbrella organization of Argentine Jewry, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

DAIA called for a peaceful demonstration on Thursday to express the feelings of the community and repudiate the act.

This time, the bomb struck one of the community’s most important addresses, although the building is in a poor neighborhood where most Jews no longer live.

It housed the DAIA, the AMIA and a library of YIVO, the Jewish Research Institute, where the archives on Jewish life in Argentina were stored, among other organizations.

LOSS OF ARCHIVES MOURNED

In New York, Rabbi Leon Klenicki, interfaith director for the Anti-Defamation League and a native of Argentina, especially rued the loss of the YIVO library, which covered the history of the Argentine Jewish community.

“I used to spend hours in the YIVO, reading and reading, and now everything is gone. Got-tenyu,” he said, using the Yiddish word for God used in times of grief.

On Tuesday, the Jewish community buried two of the victims at the Tablada Cemetery in Buenos Aires.

One of those buried, Jaime Platzkin, was about 60 years old and was one of the people who had worked longest at AMIA.

The chief rabbi of Buenos Aires, Salomon Ben Hamuds, intoned the prayers at the funeral.

“Many people came, and they were very sad but not yet saying all of what they had in mind,” he later told JTA.

In the immediate aftermath of the blast, a team of rabbis and psychologists began talking with the wounded victims and the relatives of those who are still missing.

Eduardo Baron, who was working on the second floor of the building at the time of the blast, was able to escape with only minor injuries through the back of the building.

“Two-thirds of the building fell down, but I was in the part that didn’t fall completely,” he said, his face tired and covered with bandages.

Shoshana Kreimen-Brill, the wife of a wellknown local rabbi, was one of those still missing. While her husband was composed, one of her three teen-age daughters was crying loudly.

There was a long line of people in front of the new AMIA headquarters. Their faces were lined with fatigue, and many had swollen eyes.

With the passing of the hours, it was evident that hope was vanishing for many of those waiting for news of their loved ones.

In three words, Claudio Rosujovsky, one of those standing at the new headquarters, summed up the feelings of many here: “Why us again?”

(Contributing to this report were JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York and correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv.)

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