Beraja, Ruben Ezra

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BERAJA, RUBEN EZRA (1939– ), Argentinean community leader and Zionist activist. Born in Ciudadela, Province of Buenos Aires, to a family from Aleppo, Syria, from an early age Beraja was active in Jewish public life and after graduating as a lawyer from the University of Buenos Aires he joined the management of the Cooperativa Mayo, a credit cooperative established in 1961 that used its profits to support the Sephardi Jewish school network and for other beneficial activities. Beraja, who was the youngest member of the board, was soon appointed president of the cooperative. He continued to fill this position when the cooperative was transformed into the Banco Mayo (1978), acting in this capacity until the bank went bankrupt in 1998.

In the late 1960s Beraja was invited by Rabbi Itzhak Schehebar, the spiritual leader of the Aleppine community, to join the board of directors of the Congregación Sefaradí Argentina, becoming an active promoter of its educational and religious activities. At the same time he became one of the promising leaders of the Zionist Sephardi movement.

Using the financial success of the Banco Mayo, Beraja expanded its assistance to the educational, cultural and Zionist institutions of the Jewish community at large, increasing the influence of the Orthodox sector and the prestige of the Sephardi leadership.

In 1991 Beraja was elected president of the *daia, becoming the political representative of Argentinean Jewry. He was reelected in 1993 and 1996. Acting during the presidency of Carlos Saúl Menem, he was involved (1992) in the opening of the archives dealing with the immigration to Argentina of Nazi criminals in the postwar years under Peron's presidency. He also acted in defense of the Jewish community following the two dramatic events that shook its existence – the explosion of the Israeli Embassy in March 1992 and of the amia community building in July 1994.

However, the conflicting interests of his financial and political careers led to his downfall, caused by the collapse of Menem's economic policy and the political and economic crises that ensued. Beraja was held responsible for the losses of the Banco Mayo, which had bitter consequences for the Jewish community. Beraja was placed in preventive custody in December 2003 and at the beginning of 2005 was still awaiting trial. He accused the president of the Argentinean Central Bank during the crash of Banco Mayo – Pedro Pou – of discrimination and antisemitism.

Beraja served in several international Jewish organizations and was the vice president of the World Jewish Congress and the president of the Latin American Jewish Congress and the Fedración Sefaradí Latinoamericana (fesela). He promoted the creation of important new projects, like the Universidad Hebrea Bar Ilan and a Jewish video-cable station (aleph), which did not last. He was the recipient of the Jerusalem Award for Jewish Education in the Diaspora from the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

[Efraim Zaidoff (2nd ed.)]