The Jewish community of Uruguay was shaken by the murder of David Fremd, Hy”d, a businessman and community leader in the city of Paysandu. While there have been no official police statements regarding a motive, sources have said that evidence points to the killing being driven by anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz, Chief Rabbi of Uruguay, told Hamodia that the community was “shocked.”
“This is unheard of in Uruguay,” he said, adding that there had been no attacks in the country aimed at Jews in many years. “The community has really come together showing tremendous support and solidarity. There is a strong feeling that this cannot be viewed as just an attack on an individual, but when someone is killed because he is a Jew it is an attack on all of us.”
In the general population, Rabbi Spitz said, there had also been a sense of “shock and disbelief,” amid strong support for the Jewish community and that the regional governor had already visited with the Fremd family to offer his condolences.
He said that he had been informed by authorities that the perpetrator, who is in custody, had converted to Islam several years ago and reportedly made a statement on the day prior to the attack that he intended to kill a Jew. The assailant is reportedly 35 years of age and has a criminal background.
Mr. Fremd, 55, was walking in a street near his retail clothing store late on Tuesday when he was attacked and stabbed several times, passing away from wounds shortly thereafter. His son, Gabriel, who was also at the scene sustained light injuries and has since been released from the hospital.
Rabbi Leizer Shemtov of the Beis Chabad of Montevideo told Hamodia that he had known the victim for 30 years and began to make the four-hour drive to Paysandu as soon as he heard of the incident.
“He was a very fine and gentle natured person, who wanted to bring as much Yiddishkeit to the community as he could,” he said. “Everybody is very shaken up, this is the first time in 30 years someone was killed for being Jewish.”
Mr. Fremd was a highly involved member of the small Jewish community of Paysandu, which has dwindled to a small group of families, as well as in Jewish life in greater Uruguay. He was instrumental in maintain the city’s shul, which in recent years has only functioned for Yamim Tovim and special occasions. He is the father of three sons, one of whom lives in Eretz Yisrael. The family are long-time members of the community.
“He was a truly wonderful man, a real mentsch on the highest level, very well-known and well-liked,” said Rabbi Spitz. “He was always concerned for the community and was ready to do what he could to help both the community and individuals.”
Rabbi Shemtov described Uruguay as a “very warm and open democratic society,” but said recent tensions in the Middle East had given rise to some anti-Jewish rhetoric.
“Until recently, people were ashamed to express anti-Semitism, but during the Gaza war the government was very critical of Israel and it created a certain negative environment which came out especially on social media,” he said, adding that tensions had since dissipated.
Rabbi Shemtov said that there had always been security at Jewish institutions, and that it had been heighted since the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in neighboring Argentina.
Uruguay is home to an estimated 15-20,000 Jews, the vast majority of whom reside in the capitol city of Montevideo. Paysandu is a city located near the country’s boarder with Argentina and has a population of over 75,000.
The levayah was schedualed to take place on Thursday in the Jewish cemetery in Montevideo.