Last Monday morning, as the digital clock atop the Itau bank building that towers over the tree-lined park across from the steps of the Supreme Court read 9:53, a few tears fell from a cloudy sky. A crowd of some 150 people, huddled around a man at the edge of the park in front of a microphone, fell silent.
It was time for Memoria Activa.
On every Monday since the shiva week ended for the 85 victims of the terrorist bombing at the AMIA Jewish community building here on Monday, July 18, 1994, a protest rally has taken place here. It always starts at 9:53. “That’s when the bomb exploded,” says Enrique Burbinski, Latin American representative of HIAS and a founder of the rally, whose name means “active memory.”
For Argentine Jewry, reeling in 1994 from the terrorist bombing at the Israeli Embassy two years earlier, the attacks remain an open wound. A banner hangs across the street from the rebuilt AMIA building, replaced monthly, noting the number of years and months since the attack for which 20 police officers, accused of being minor accomplices in the crime, are now on trial in federal court. Members of the Jewish community tell how the pair of attacks shook their faith in Argentine society, in Argentine justice.
For Argentine Jewry, Memoria Activa serves as a constant prod on the national conscience. The protestors, from teens to senior citizens, mostly relatives and friends of the people who died eight years ago, come every week, in any weather. “On Yom Kippur we only rally,” silently marching, Burbinski says — no speeches.
“This is the 401st week,” he says.
On regular weeks, the format is the same. A banner that declares “Everyone is Active Memory,” an opening speech, some blasts of the shofar, a moment of silence, remarks about a few of the victims. This week a local folksinger performed a ballad about justice.
There is little visible police presence, and, in a city where political rallies these days are as common as “for rent” signs, little reaction by pedestrians.
“We accuse. We proclaim justice,” Burbinski says. And they remind.
Memoria Activa, which operates indendently of AMIA or the official Jewish community, also pays the fees of some lawyers who represent relatives of AMIA victims in the current trial. “We have no money. We are running out of funds,” says Sergio Widder, Latin American representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and an active member of the group.
People who have died in other terrorist incidents are remembered in the moment of silence. Often, says Burbinski, it’s Israelis, from the current intifada Palestinian uprising. “Many times we remember victims of terrorism in many other countries,” including the United States after 9-11. “Our focus is the embassy of Israel and AMIA.”
The protests will continue, he says, as long as the AMIA trial, which began in September, goes on.
“It depends what happens at the trial.”
This week’s rally ended at 10:23. The people quickly scattered. And the sky shone again.