For the first time in the three-year-old war in Bosnia, the Jewish community’s headquarters in Sarajevo has taken a direct hit.
A 120 mm mortar shell hit the Jewish community center in the Bosnian capital about 3 p.m. Monday.
According to Jacob Finci, president of La Benevolencija, the Jewish community’s non-sectarian aid agency, no one was hurt.
“The shell hit the top floor and destroyed an unused room. Since it was after our regular lunch time, almost no one was in the building,” he said, speaking by telephone from his Sarajevo apartment.
Finci said he and Ivan Ceresnjes, community president, received telephone calls from both the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian government.
Each blamed the other side for the attack.
Finci, who maintains a strictly apolitical stance in the ongoing conflict between the Bosnian government and rebel Serbs, refused to speculate on which group was responsible for the assault.
“We’re still feeding people every day, whether they are Jews, Croats, Serbs or Muslims,” he said when asked to comment about the telephone calls.
Aided by supplies from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, England’s World Jewish Relief and a network of ad hoc organizations operating throughout Europe, La Benevolencija has come one of the most effective humanitarian aid agencies operating in the war zone today, distributing food, mail and medicine.
But because of recent heavy shelling, less than half of the 320 daily visitors to La Benevolencija’s soup kitchen have come there during the past month.
And with all access routes into Sarajevo blocked and nearly 100 tons of food waiting in rented warehouses outside the city La Benevolencija no longer has food packages to give out.
“We’ve asked for cash wire transfers to be made,” Finci said, “and we hope to be able to provide all community members with around $30 per month. That should help them buy necessities.”
World Jewish Relief officials reported from London that $15,000 has just been wired successfully to the community’s bank.
Officials of the Joint sent a message of support to the Jewish community’s leadership after the bombing.
“We reconfirm our unwavering support and admiration for the work you and the community continue to do in the face of such conditions, and our hearts are with you during this trying time,” the message read.
The attack came amid an increasingly tense situation in Bosnia. Bosnia Serb forces overtook a U.N. safe haven in Srebrenica this week, as NATO forces conducted some air attacks and were considering their next move.
Military observers believe this will be a dangerous, if not decisive summer for the warring armies.
Yet while many Sarajevans are too afraid to go outside, Jewish life goes on.
The Jewish community has launched a summer program of Jewish culture.
Twice weekly, about 20 Jews, Muslims, Croats and Serbs gather in the community center to learn about and discuss Jewish history, to watch videos of Israel – - on television with a gasoline-driven generator — and to study Hebrew.