BUENOS AIRES, Sept. 9 (JTA) It was called to discuss civil society and the struggle against poverty, but a conference that brought together 1,900 participants from 24 countries and 500 organizations couldn’t avoid referring to the recent acquittal of suspects in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center. “It’s very Jewish to answer that after a tragedy of 10 years with absolute impunity, we switch on the lights and we build,” Bernardo Kliksberg, general coordinator of the Inter-American Development Bank’s Inter-American Initiative for Social Capital, Ethics and Development, told JTA. The conference atmosphere was permeated with desolation after last week’s acquittal of local men accused of being accomplices to the 1994 bombing, which killed 85 people and wounded 300. The gathering became a space not only to learn about the battle against poverty but also for different social sectors to express their “national shame” at the fact that no one has been found responsible for the bombing, as Bishop Jorge Casaretto, president of the Catholic social service organization Caritas, told the audience. The colloquium on civil society and poverty was hosted by AMIA, which was celebrating its 110th anniversary. At the conference’s opening session, AMIA President Abraham Kaul sought to link the conference focus and the failed investigation. “We won’t stop until we find justice,” he said. “We won’t stop until poverty stops.” Former regional presidents, ministers, legislators, and Jewish, Catholic and Evangelical leaders shared “best practices” against poverty in a region where 220 million of 500 million inhabitants live on less than $2 a day. Helping AMIA host the event were the Inter-American Development Bank and the Latin American Jewish Congress, with the support of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Caritas. “It’s so important to have Jews and Catholics working together on civil society issues, particularly in the continent with the highest Catholic population. It’s also an opportunity for the whole society to share the national shame” over the acquittals, Manuel Tenembaun, director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, told JTA. Claudio Epelman, the congress’ assistant director, stressed the importance of having the Jewish community lead a meeting with other sectors of society. Participants discussed how the fight against poverty is related to native populations, gender discrimination, homeless children, education and rehabilitation of the disabled. Many organizations leading the tough battles are Jewish, and AMIA’s employment bureau, founded two years ago to serve Jews and non-Jews alike, has become the most important in the country. Last year, 1,300 out of 2,800 people who used the bureau found jobs, according to Ernesto Tocker, director of AMIA’s employment department. Psychologist Becky Sabah technical director of disabled projects at the Uruguayan Israelite Society said the disabled program has managed to spur discussion of handicapped issues in Uruguayan society. “The fact that the disabled themselves, their parents and the Jewish community is talking about disabilities is the first step for us,” said Sabah, who is in a wheelchair.
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