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Friends of Israeli Argentines Mourn; but Immigration Not Expected to Slow

If terror is a defining part of Israeli life, the Argentine immigrant community has taken an unfortunate step toward fitting in.

The deaths of immigrants Gaston Perpinal, 15, and Julio Pedro Magram, 51, in a suicide bombing in Kfar Saba on Monday have shocked the community.

A memorial corner for the two was set up at the immigrant absorption center in Ra’anana, which borders Kfar Saba. Most of the absorption center’s 400 residents hail from Argentina and fled the country’s economic and political hardships in search of a better life in Israel.

Teams of psychologists were dispatched to the center this week to help residents cope with their fears and concerns.

At the same time, some residents voiced strong feelings of solidarity and identification with Israel, said the center’s director, Ilan Architecter.

“They said, ‘Now we feel like part of you. Israel is our home,’ ” the Israeli daily Ma’ariv quoted Architecter as saying. “After such a full expression of identification with Israel” we “understood that they are already part of us, and not really new immigrants anymore.”

Back in Argentina, officials of the Jewish Agency for Israel did not expect the attack to slow the pace of aliyah, which has been driven by the country’s economic collapse, which began in December 2001.

Some 6,000 Argentines are expected to make aliyah this year — including 260 from Perpinal’s city of Cordoba, up from just 75 in 2001.

“It’s true that this was a tragedy that affected two Argentines, but the number of people who might not go to Israel because of that is insignificant,” said Alejandro Abramovich, the Jewish Agency’s spokesman in Buenos Aires. “All Argentines know it’s more insecure to be here” than in Israel.

In fact, a day after the bombing, 142 Argentines who are moving to Israel by the end of the year celebrated their aliyah with a party in Buenos Aires.

The agency’s new director for Latin America, Arieh Abir, encouraged people to move to Israel despite the terror, Abramovich said.

“Abir mentioned the attack to the crowd,” Abramovich said. “He said it’s a part of reality. But it can be controlled, and life goes on in the parks, schools and offices in Israel.”

For Perpinal, whose family made aliyah last April, there was never any question about living in Israel. Active in a Zionist youth movement in his native city of Cordoba, Perpinal was said to tell his parents frequently that if they didn’t move to Israel, he’d go alone.

He and his parents were living in the Ra’anana absorption center, but were due to move shortly to their own apartment in Kfar Saba.

On Tuesday, Perpinal had gone to Kfar Saba to play basketball. Afterward he stopped at the Arim mall to buy a present for his mother.

He saw security guard Magram, 51, whom he knew from a Hebrew language class at the absorption center, and was chatting with him when the attack took place.

Friends described Perpinal as quiet and personable. He was buried Wednesday in Ra’anana.

Authorities said that if Magram had not blocked the terrorist with his body, the casualties from the attack would have been much greater.

Magram, who was born in the city of Posadas in northeastern Argentina, immigrated to Israel with his 83-year-old mother in March 2001. His mother settled in the Negev city of Arad, where Magram’s sister and family live.

Magram moved to the Ra’anana absorption center to study Hebrew. It was there that he met his girlfriend and her three children, also from Argentina. They later moved to an apartment in Kfar Saba.

Magram found work as a security guard, and recently began working double shifts to earn more money.

“He said he wanted to save money in order to start a new life,” said Magram’s nephew, Rafael. He described his uncle as someone who “loved to have a good time, eat well, play tennis. A wonderful person who loved life.”

Magram was buried Wednesday in Arad.

Back in Argentina, the only Jewish school in Cordoba, General San Martin, was closed for mourning Tuesday and Wednesday, and young Jews gathered in silence at the Israeli Union Center. The school was to reopen Thursday after a special prayer service.

Local television and radio stations focused on Perpinal’s death, and the two local newspapers ran front-page stories about it.

Perpinal was the only child of Gustavo, an architect, and Cecilia, a kindergarten teacher.

“All their love was focused on Gaston,” a community source told JTA.

The parents were active in the Jewish community. When they left for Israel because of their economic problems, “it was a big loss for the Jewish community,” said Claudio Epelman, director of the Israeli Union Center director. “They were really nice people, beloved, simple, working people.”

Gaston, who played basketball with the Macabi Noar club, “was very clever,” Epelman said.

Perpinal’s school friends from Cordoba were preparing to leave Dec. 18 on a two-week trip to Israel sponsored by the Jewish Agency.

“In addition to the emotion of being there, we were so excited to see Gaston,” his close friend Jonatan Chami told JTA.

“His friends are destroyed,” Chami continued. “We just don’t understand. But we are together, and that is important.”

On Wednesday, Abir flew from Buenos Aires to Cordoba to console Perpinal’s aunt, cousins and grandmother.

In Posadas, where Magram was born, old friends kept giving their condolences to Hilda Edith Magram de Roitbourd, Magram’s first cousin.

“We were much more than just cousins; we were close friends. We used to speak a long time on the telephone, despite the huge distance,” Magram de Roitbourd told JTA.

Her father and Magram’s father were brothers who arrived from Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, and helped establish the Jewish presence in Entre Rios province.

After Magram’s father died, Magram’s sister moved to Israel and Magram moved to Buenos Aires, where he eventually opened a travel agency.

For a time the business prospered, but ultimately Magram had to close it when the country’s economy faltered. Magram de Roitbourd encouraged her cousin to make aliyah, and went to Buenos Aires for his farewell party.

Magram “had such a sense of humor. He even joked about the difficulties of learning Hebrew for a security guard,” she said. “He said he wouldn’t be able to say anything to a terrorist because he barely spoke Hebrew.”

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