Argentine Jews still suffering 10 years after AMIA bombing

buenos aires | Things weren’t always this desperate for Deborah Fischer and her husband Hector.

Until a few years ago, the young Jewish couple sold notebooks, pencils and school supplies from their own kiosk and lived in a decent two-bedroom rental apartment in the middle-class Buenos Aires neighborhood of Paternal.

Then the bottom fell out of Argentina’s economy, and the Fischers’ lives were turned upside down.

Today, the entire family lives crammed into a one-room storefront. Their shop long gone, Hector now peddles off-brand sneakers in the street, while Deborah — who is 34 but looks 10 years older — takes care of their 7-month-old daughter and hyperactive 5-year-old son.

Not all of Argentina’s 300,000 Jews are in such dire straits, and some are doing much better since the country’s economic situation began to improve in 2002.

But this month, as the Jewish community marks the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center, which killed 85 people and wounded 300, the community as a whole remains deeply scarred psychologically and economically.

The Fischers’ apartment, which rents for about $78 a month, is barely big enough for two beds, a crib, a TV set and a kitchen table. The tiny Kelvinator fridge in the corner is practically empty, and the bathroom has no running water. If not for handouts from local and international Jewish organizations, the Fischers probably would be out on the street.

“We cannot shower. We can’t move around,” said Deborah, who once spent two years in Israel and still speaks some Hebrew. “I’d return to Israel, but when I lived there I was a different person. Now I have two kids, and it’s not so easy.”

Compounding the economic challenges among Jews here are fears of a third large-scale terrorist attack on the community, according to Abraham Kaul, president of AMIA since May 2002.

The AMIA bombing came only two years after a bomb destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people and injuring hundreds.

“I recently received an urgent call on my cell phone, and the first thing I thought was that a synagogue had been bombed,” Kaul said. “But it wasn’t that. Someone I knew had died in an auto accident. The point is, we have incorporated this idea in our heads that there can be another attack at any time, at any place. This is now a part of being Jewish in Argentina.”

Jews here are deeply frustrated that 10 years after the attack — the deadliest terrorist strike in the history of Latin America — no one formally has been charged with the crime, adding to the sense of paranoia among Argentine Jews.

The good news, say community officials, is that Argentina’s once-virulent anti-Semitism seems to have subsided.

“I think the AMIA attack triggered a big feeling of solidarity by Argentines toward the Jews, and an acceptance that the Jews are a part of Argentine society,” Kaul said. “The economic crisis showed that the Jews are suffering the same as everyone else.”