Flight of Jewish Argentines Jacobo Mintzer recalls mentor’s call to be careful, conscious

Dr. Jacobo Mintzer pursued a medical career that led him from his native Argentina to Israel to the United States.

In 1991, Jacobo Mintzer, a psychiatrist who specializes in Alzheimer’s disease, arrived in Charleston with his wife, Olga Brawman Mintzer, a researcher of anxiety disorders. He had pursued a circuitous medical career that led him from his native Argentina, which he left in 1979, to Israel and then the U.S.

Mintzer knew of Robert Cox and his work at the Buenos Aires Herald but had never met him. He was shocked to see Cox’s name listed on the masthead of The Post and Courier. “This is not real!” he thought to himself. “So, I called him right away. I couldn’t believe I would find someone who would know my story and sympathize with my story.”

The two men became good friends. When Mintzer’s son had his bar mitzvah, the Coxes came with two boxes. The small package was a gift for the 13-year-old; the large package was for Mintzer. “Open it whenever you want,” Cox told him.

Inside, Mintzer found an award given to his mentor and teacher, Rabbi Marshall Meyer, for his humanitarian work. Cox had received the award from Meyer when the rabbi was dying of cancer. Cox had protested mildly; he didn’t need gifts, he said, memories were enough.

“Don’t worry, you’ll know what to do with it,” Meyer replied.

In this way, Mintzer presided over the bar mitzvah of his son with the clear presence of his own spiritual mentor profoundly felt.

“It closed a loop,” he said. “I thought I had no context.”

Today, Mintzer is director of the Roper St. Francis Clinical Biotechnology Research Institute.

He considers Cox and Meyer two of the most influential people in his life.

“One led me to my life cycle, the other helped me to make sense of it and feel all right,” he said.

Meyer ran the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary in Buenos Aires, which Mintzer attended, and was a vocal proponent of human rights. It was likely his American citizenship, international standing and good relations with the church protected him from the military junta. Many also assumed that Israel was selling arms to Argentina, another factor that possibly mitigated anti-Jewish actions on the part of the government, Mintzer said.

Jews in Argentina were double targets because they were thought to be left-leaning intellectuals and critics of the government (many were), merchants with disproportionate economic power and Zionists with divided national loyalties.

“Meyer encouraged all of us to be careful but to be conscious,” Mintzer said. “And in the middle of all this craziness, you have one voice, ... one loud voice, and that was the Buenos Aires Herald.”

In 1979, after completing medical school, Mintzer left the country, encouraged by Meyer. He furthered his education in Israel, becoming part of a substantial cadre of Argentinian exiles practicing psychiatry. By the late 1980s, he was in the U.S., first as a research fellow, then as a physician.

Those in exile face particular challenges, aside from learning a new language, he said. They must endure a cultural displacement and work harder than others to find a social niche. Mintzer said he has relied on his religious faith and Jewish identity in his life’s quest.

“I want to believe there is a circle,” he said. “The moment I get this thing from Bob” (Meyer’s award), “maybe the circle is closed, maybe I am supposed to be here.”