June 6, 2017 — Washington, D.C.
AJC presented its Moral Courage Award to B.G. Willison, an American citizen who rescued Lea Kovensky, a survivor of the devastating 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as well as other injured victims.
Gail Binderman, a member of AJC’s Board of Governors and the board of AJC’s Belfer Insitute for Latino and Latin American Affairs, presented the award to the retired U.S. Marine Corp Lieutenant at the AJC Global Forum. “Tonight’s recognition is about an iconic hero who, at great personal risk, acted with conviction to save a complete stranger’s life,” said Binderman. The inscription on the award states: “A beacon of courage and an inspiration for us all.”
“Lea has done more for me that I could have for her,” said Willison, who keeps a photo of Kovensky in his office “to remind me what courage, resilience, and strength look like.” Recalling the day of the bombing, he said that “she was injured, lost her friends, her colleagues, and her work place. I gained a new appreciation for life.”
“Invisible to your eyes but visible in my heart, survivors and their families stand next to me. We became one 25 years ago,” said Kovensky, who traveled specially form Buenos Aires to join in honoring Willison. “B.G. embodies the idea of loving your neighbor—and loving the stranger—as thyself,” Kovensky said. “I cannot thank him enough for coming to my rescue, and showing the world that bravery and courage will always prevail.”
Kovensky and Willison met by chance on March 17, 1992, when the truck bomb, widely believed to have been planned by Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, left 29 dead and more than 200 wounded. The explosion was so powerful that a Catholic church, a nursing home, a school and other buildings near the embassy in Buenos Aires also were destroyed. The victims, many of them passersby, were of many nationalities and faiths.
Kovensky, an Argentine Jew, then 36, was a secretary at the embassy. Willison, a 24-year-old U.S. Marine stationed in Argentina, was off duty, relaxing at a cafe nearby. When he heard the explosion, Willison ran to the scene to help.
Amidst a heavy cloud of dust and debris Willison found an injured Kovensky, covered in blood, searching for a way out. He carried her out to a medical relief area quickly set up to tend to the wounded. After making sure she was in good hands, Willison returned to the destroyed embassy again, and again, to help rescue other survivors of the attack.
Willison, who recently visited Buenos Aires for the 25th anniversary of the bombing, declared that “the Jewish community in Argentina is strong. I now feel part of it.” And, he made a clarion call to preserve the memory of those killed, “to ensure future generations know of this historical event, so we can stop terrorism.”
The 1992 attack was one of the most gruesome terrorist assaults on a Jewish facility outside of Israel since World War II. Two years later, in a similar operation, Hezbollah terrorists, supported by Iran, destroyed the AMIA Jewish community center building. No one has been brought to justice for either attack.
The AJC Global Forum, taking place June 4-6, in Washington, D.C., is the advocacy organization’s signature annual event, bringing together more than 2,500 participants from across the United States and 70 countries around the world.