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Amia

AMIA

AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina ), organization of the Buenos Aires Ashkenazi community. On Sept. 26, 1893, representatives of the four Jewish organizations in *Buenos Aires, among them the Congregación Israelita de la República Argentina (cira), met and decided to form the Sociedad de Entierros (Burial Society). On July 22, 1894, the Chevra Keduscha Ashkenazi (Ashkenazi Burial Society) was formed, headed by Henry *Joseph, rabbi of cira. The purpose of the society was to ensure that both members and nonmembers receive a Jewish burial. At first the Burial Society leased graves in the Protestant cemetery, while simultaneously endeavoring to obtain its own burial ground. These efforts encountered many financial and legal difficulties, in addition to hostile public opinion. Only in 1910, due to the efforts of its president, Naum Enkin, was the first burial ground acquired in the suburb of Liniers. The Chevra Kedusha had unwritten agreements with the Sephardic burial societies, allowing each to bury only its own ethnic group. The monopoly on an indispensable religious service made the cemetery a source of community funds for those seeking financial assistance. In the 1920s it partially financed public institutions, increasing these activities in the 1930s. After it had acquired a larger cemetery site in Tablada in 1934, it helped found in 1935 the Va'ad ha-Ḥinnukh (Education Committee), which was responsible for organizing Jewish education in Greater Buenos Aires, and founded the Rabbis' Committee. It then became a mutual association called the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (amia) on Dec. 17, 1940. During the 1940s, amia gradually extended the scope of its community activities and, on March 31, 1949, under the presidency of Moshe Slinin, designated itself the Kehila de Buenos Aires. In September 1952, on the initiative of its president, Moises Goldman, amia established the Va'ad ha-Kehillot (Communities' Committee), which united all the communities of Argentina (36 communities in 1952, 130 in 1964). amia played a dominant role in this committee and also supplied most of its funds. On April 16, 1956, amia changed its statutes. Thenceforth, 90 members were elected to its council, under a system of proportional representation, from a list of eight parties; most of them were from the Zionist parties that generally had their counterparts in the Israeli party system. From among its members, the council chose a president and an executive committee of 24 members.

From 85 members in the year of its foundation, the membership of amia gradually rose until in July 1968 it registered 51,798. Since membership is registered by families, this figure represents a much larger number of individuals. The number of associated families is estimated in 2004 as close to 16,000, preserving the traditional position of amia as the largest Argentinean Jewish institution, and in latter years there was a membership increase of close to 3,000, probably as a result of its welfare and aid programs. In the 1960s more than 50% of the total budget was spent on the Jewish education system through the Central Education Committee (Vaad ha-Ḥinukh ha-Mercazi). It also covered most of the budget of the institutions of higher learning, Ha-Midrashah ha-Ivrit, the rabbinical seminary, and also a secondary day school, Rambam. But this support to Jewish education was reduced drastically in the 1990s and many of these institutions were closed. In recent years, a new coalition was established by amia, the Joint Distribution Committee (jdc), and the Jewish Agency for Israel for the economic rationalization and support of the school network. This new organization – Central Agency of Jewish Education – gives financial assistance and provides organizational planning for all the associated schools in the country, embracing nearly 17,000 pupils. In the 1960s and 1970s the Youth Department of amia ran a network of youth centers in Buenos Aires and a central course for youth leaders in conjunction with Sociedad Hebraica Argentina and since the 1970s with the World Zionist Organization. Today amia supports many youth centers and programs on a basis of partnership. Its Cultural Department organizes weekly lectures, films and theater exhibitions, etc. Until the 1980s it sponsored an annual "Jewish Book Month," during which thousands of books in Spanish, Yiddish, and Hebrew on Jewish subjects were sold. In 1986 amia founded a publishing house – Editorial Mila – which has published hundreds of books in Spanish including literature, essays, testimonies, and research studies. amia has a rabbinical department headed by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Benhamu. Rabbi Benhamu was born in Tetuán (1936) and studied in a yeshivah in Great Britain. After serving as head of a yeshivah in Tetuán, he arrived in 1962 to Argentina as the principal of the schools of Agudat Israel (Hechal Hatorah and Beth Yaakov). In 1965 amia sent him to complete his rabbinical studies in Israel, and he entered amia's rabbinical department. He was appointed as chief rabbi in 1976.

The social welfare department has many assistance programs in Buenos Aires and in cooperation with Vaad ha-Kehillot also in the provinces, all of them co-sponsored by jdc. In 2004 these programs gave monthly support for the distribution of food, medicines, clothing, and housing to approximately 5,000 people in Buenos Aires and 6,500 in the provinces (Program Mezonot together with the Argentinean welfare association Tzedaka), and subsidized meals for about 2,000 children (Program Meitiv) all over the country. Other functioning programs, with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank, provide employment for Jews and non-Jews. amia also established a network of educational and social centers for people with special needs which serves 200 people, and centers for the aged with 2,500 users.

For several years amia had an arbitration department that dealt with business and other disputes, which in many cases replaced litigation. amia also had (from 1962) a department for social research – cehis – engaged mainly in summarizing demographic statistics on Argentinean Jewry, but it was closed in 1995.

The community building of amia, built in the mid-1940s and which housed the daia, the Va'ad ha-Kehillot, the Va'ad ha-Ḥinuch, and the Jewish Scientific Institute (yivo), with its library and archives, was destroyed in a terrorist bombing on July 14, 1994. In this tragic attack 85 people, Jews and non-Jews, were killed and hundreds wounded. The new amia building, dedicated in 1999, houses the above-mentioned institutions and the offices of the Jewish Agency. Since the statutes of amia were revised in the 1950s, it has been run by a coalition of most of the Zionist parties. However, there has been a constant decline in the number of voters, a fact that worries the community's leaders.

add. bibliography:

amia. Comunidad Judía de Buenos Aires 1894–1994 (1995), at: www.amia.org.ar.

[Haim Avni /

Efraim Zadoff (2nd ed.)]

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