Tag: Jews of Venezuela

Venezuelan Sephardim are ready to move again

The Sephardi Jews of Venezuela are ready to uproot their familes for the second time in one generation, but it’s crime, rather than antisemitism, propelling them to leave, JTA News reports:

CARACAS, Venezuela (JTA) — Esther Benchimol de Roffe arrived in Venezuela as a young bride, leaving northern Morocco more than 50 years ago to meet her groom in a prosperous foreign land.

The young couple fit in easily in a country where, as Spanish-speaking Sephardim, they already were familiar with the language and the Jewish community was established. Her husband built a successful business, and Benchimol raised a family and earned international renown singing the ancient Sephardic hymns she had learned as a child in Alcazarquivir.

“It was a rich country, there were a lot of opportunities,” reminisces Benchimol, now 74. “We had many friends and there was a real sense of brotherhood. There was never any racism against us.”

Her tone changes, however, when she considers the futures of her grandchildren and whether she would advise them to stay in Venezuela.

“I wouldn’t stay here,” Benchimol said. “I’m speaking as a grandmother.”

It’s not anti-Semitism that causes her to fear daily for the safety of her grandchildren but “la inseguridad” — insecurity. It’s the general term Venezuelans use now to describe an unrelenting crime wave that cuts across the country’s economically and ideologically polarized society. The issue consistently tops surveys here as Venezuelans’ biggest concern.

Venezuelan Jews say that as citizens of a state in which many have lost faith in the police and judicial system, they fear random violence far more than anti-Semitic attacks. They consistently cite crime as their main source of anxiety.

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Must Moroccan Jews of Venezuela move again?

Vandalised synagogue (photo: CNN)

News that a synagogue in Caracas was vandalized a few days ago sent shock waves around Jewish communities worldwide, fearing for the future of their co-religionists in Venezuela. Tension there has, of course, been building for some time, since the demagogue Hugo Chavez became President.

The building was invaded by armed men, Torah scrolls were thrown to the floor, and slogans painted on walls. This followed the beating of a community rabbi a week earlier. President Chavez denounced the synagogue attack – laying the blame on his political opponents! – but his vocal support for Hamas and Iran, angry attacks on Israel and Jews, and expulsion of Israeli diplomats, have created a charged atmosphere.

Most frightening of all, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was the revelation of a ‘plan of action’ published in a pro-government digital newspaper, Aporrea.org, giving direction against Venezuela’s Jewish community which included:

– publicly denouncing by name, the members of powerful Jewish groups in Venezuela, names of their companies and businesses in order to boycott them

-avoiding products, stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and where Kosher food is sold which either belongs or has links with ‘Zionist Jews’ – questioning the existence of Jewish educational institutions

– shouting pro-Palestine and anti-Israel slogans at Jews on the street

– inviting anti-Zionist Jews living in Venezuela to publicly express their disassociation from ‘Zionist war crimes’ and the imposition of ‘artificial State of Israel’ on Palestine

– nationalization of companies, confiscation of properties of those Jews who support the Zionist atrocities of the Nazi-State of Israel, and donate this property to the Palestinian victims of today’s ‘Holocaust’

These measures are eerily reminiscent of measures imposed on Jews in Arab countries.

Since Hugo Chavez embarked on his anti-Jewish campaign a fifth of the Jewish community has left. Now many more are contemplating packing their bags.

For many Jews of Moroccan origin, it will be the second uprooting in one or two generations.

The biggest waves of immigration in Venezuela occurred after World War II and the 1967 Six-Day War, when a large influx of Sephardi Jews from Morocco arrived and settled mostly in the capital of Caracas. The Jewish population in Venezuela peaked at 45,000, largely centered in Caracas, but with smaller concentrations in Maracaibo.

Ironically enough, the Venezuelan government has managed to upset both Israel and Morocco lately. Both countries have broken off diplomatic relations. Venezuela accused Morocco of supporting Israel’s Gaza campaign.

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