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HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN VENEZUELA
The History of the Jews in Venezuela dates to the middle of the 17th century, when records suggest that groups of marranos (Spanish and Portuguese descendants of baptized Jews suspected of secret adherence to Judaism) lived in Tucacas, Caracas and Maracaibo. The Jewish community, however, did not become established in Venezuela until the middle of the 19th century. Since Hugo Chávez took power in 1999, tension has existed between the government and Jewish population, which has seen large numbers emigrating.
The Jewish Cemetery of Coro, established in 1832, is the oldest Jewish cemetery in continuous use in the Americas.
At the turn of the 19th century, Venezuela were fighting against their Spanish colonizers in wars of independence and Simón Bolívar, Venezuela's liberator, found refuge and material support for his army in the homes of Jews from Curaçao. The Jewish Cemetery of Coro is the oldest Jewish cemetery in continuous use in the Americas. Its origin can be located in the 19th century, when Sephardic Jews from the Dutch colony of Curaçao began to migrate to the Venezuelan city of Santa Ana de Coro in 1824.
In 1907, the Israelite Beneficial Society, which became the Israelite Association of Venezuela in 1919, was created as an organization to bring the Jews who were scattered throughout the country together. Jewish prayer and holiday services took place in small houses in Caracas and towns like Los Teques and La Guaira. By 1917, the number of Jewish citizens rose to 475, and to 882 in 1926. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Jewish community began to develop with the arrival of North African and eastern European Jews. Jewish immigration from Eastern and Central Europe increased after 1934 but, by then, Venezuela had imposed specific restrictions on Jewish immigration, which remained in effect until after the 1950s.
In 1939 the steamboats Koenigstein and Caribia left Nazi Germany and docked in Venezuela. One Jewish refugee commented in the Venezuelan newspaper, La Esfera, "Imagine our joy at being free and far from a land in which everything threatened us with death. It is such a holy occurrence given that we were expelled from Germany and you have embraced us." By 1950, in spite of immigration restrictions, there were around 6,000 Jewish people in Venezuela. The biggest waves of immigration 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. Most of Venezuela's Jews are either first or second generation.
Venezuela was hospitable to Jewish life, and Jews "developed deep ties to the country and a strong sense of patriotism", acculturating and settling into a "comfortable 'live-and-let-live' rapport with the government". According to David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee:
They have developed an impressive communal infrastructure built around a central umbrella organization, La Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela (CAIV), with which the American Jewish Committee signed an association agreement last year, fifteen synagogues (all but one Orthodox), and, perhaps most striking of all, a Jewish all-in-one campus, Hebraica. Combining Jewish nursery and day schools, a country club, cultural center, a verdant setting, and wide-ranging sports activities, Hebraica serves as the focus for much of the community.
The results of these communal efforts speak for themselves. The community is close-knit, an overwhelming majority of Jewish children attend Jewish schools, the level of participation is high, identification with Israel is intense, and intermarriage rates are low compared to the United States or Britain.
What is equally striking in talking with Venezuela's Jews, to the extent that generalizations are ever possible, is an obvious pride in being Venezuelan. Not only do they continue to appreciate the refuge the country provided—the Jews having come in search of safety and opportunity — but they also recognize the country's postwar record of tolerance and relative absence of anti-Semitism, as well as its support of the 1947 UN resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish state.
JEWS OF VENEZUELA, THE NEW DIASPORA
Jerusalem Post 2.11.2014
Chavez made dangerous liaisons, such as with Iran, Islamic terrorists and other anti-Semites.
By Eleonora Bruzual a Venezuelan journalist @ eleonorabruzual Translation: Hernán Rubín and Jerusalem Post staff.
I am a journalist. For decades I have devoted myself to politics, and during that time I followed the perversions of what was wrongly called a “progressive Left” that has partnered with the worst of humanity. That pseudo-idealism masked the most nefarious of tyrannies, and became a collaborator with sociopaths. Behind this political Left was an unscrupulous man, obsessed with power, who put no limits on himself and had no moral restraints. That man was Hugo Chavez.
In Chavez’s view, the country’s history was divided into the period before and after the military coup that brought him to power. He was a classic Latin American caudillo from the mountains, in that after attempting to overthrow the constitutionally elected government of Carlos Andres Peres on February 4, 1992, he clothed himself with pseudo-democrats; financial support, media and ambition all paved his way.
He destroyed a democracy very democratically.
Hugo Chavez had a lot of help. Fate put forward two sinister characters that encouraged the poisoning of his mind. One was Fidel Castro, the Cuban tyrant, and the other was Norberto Ceresole, an Argentinian sociologist who served as Chavez’s ideological underpinning and instilled in him a feverish combination of militarism and frightful anti-Semitism.
By way of Castro and Ceresole, Chavez moved on to other dangerous liaisons, such as with Iran, Islamic terrorists and other anti-Semites.
Always lurking in the background was irrational hatred that kept adding more and more victims to the Chavez regime. He concentrated his hatred against the small, industrious and educated Venezuelan Jewish community.
The Jewish presence in Venezuela dates from at least the 17th century, although it is assumed that with the Spanish conquest between 1498 and 1510 some Sephardi Jews came to Venezuela seeking freedom in the New World.
The oldest Jewish cemetery in the Americas is in Coro, Venezuela’s most northwestern city, and Jews fought alongside Simon Bolivar during our independence struggle from Spain.
An increased Jewish presence came in the 20th century, with the arrival of hundreds of immigrants from Europe. Only in 1939 did Venezuela offer asylum to 251 Jews who arrived on a “Boat of Hope” and the “Königstein” ships fleeing Europe. Many members of the community today descend from these immigrants.
The number of Jews in Venezuela is not easy to define; opinions vary. When Chavez became president in 1998 there were thought to be 20,000, although others, such as Professor Sergio Della Pergola, a researchers at the Hebrew University, claim the number was closer to 14,000- 18,000. These included Ashkenazim and Sephardim. The Confederation of Associations of Israelites in Venezuela ( CAIV ) has reported that the numbers today are half what they were pre-Chavez.
Other say the decline has been as high as 70 percent due to the hostile climate of Chavez’s “revolution.”
BUT NOT only the Jews are gone. Venezuela, a country made up of many immigrants who came to find their dreams, has now become a country of exiles, emigres fleeing hatred enshrined in a political strategy by Chavez and his heirs’ virulent speeches. Venezuela is one of the most insecure places in the world in terms of crime, and Caracas is the second most violent city in the world. This is why people of all faiths emigrate. Chavez devoted himself to attacking and harassing Jews, through violent means and against corporations, education institutions and synagogues, against Jewish businessmen and academics.
This spread panic through hatred and anti-Semitism. I can identify 10 journalists from the official media who were dedicated to denigrating Jews, spreading Holocaust denial and even blaming the Jewish community for various diseases. The perennial harangue has borne fruits. Even the criminal underworld, which was a supporter of the revolution, is charged with murdering and terrifying Jews – and 90% of murders, kidnappings and robberies do not result in criminal charges, or if they do, do not result in convictions.
The government was concerned only with expropriating and harassing, and Jews were the target of these attacks. Many recall scenes of a crazed Chavez cursing Israel.
Nicolas Maduro, his successor, has expelled Israeli diplomats and adorned himself with a kaffiyeh. While walking down a street one time, he turned and ordered the expropriation of a building where dozens of jewelers, many of them Jews, worked.
The owners were thrown out on the street.
The harassment of Christians and Jewish businessmen is blatant. I cannot forget the blackmail and pressure applied to Solomon Cohen, an engineer, academic and builder. One of his buildings, the Sambil of La Candelaria, in a popular area of Caracas, was expropriated with the excuse being that it was to be used for the “benefit of the community.” Today it is destroyed, looted and abandoned.
Our Jewish brothers in Venezuela have emigrated by the thousands, many of them to Miami, others to Spain, Panama, Peru, Costa Rica, Chili and Mexico. Some have made aliya. Throughout the world they still manage to sit for Shabbat, several generations together, and dream of rebuilding their lives. They know that hatred did not cease last year on the 27th of January when the National Assembly unanimously approved an agreement in memory of Holocaust victims – when Chavistas in parliament devoted the occasion to slander and demonization of Israel on the grounds that they consider it to be committing a genocide.
Those who read this will understand why many have left, and why they are haunted by painful memories of the anti-Semitism that Venezuela wears today.
WHAT LEAVING VENEZUELA MEANS TO JEWS
Caracas Chronicles by Rachelle Krygier Azrak - June 13, 2014
In February 1939, two ships approached the shores of Venezuela after a long, desperate voyage. The Konisgtein and the Caribia’s captains had already asked for asylum in many other ports, now they pleaded with the authorities to allow the entry of its 251 passengers.
But it was 1939, and the ship’s human cargo was considered radioactive. Why? Because most of the passengers were Jews, newly expelled from Nazi Germany.
For Hitler, the fact that no country would accept them – not even the U.S. – was proof that everyone, and not only Nazis, hated the Jews.
Eleazar Lopez Contreras was President at the time, and after consulting with other institutions, he authorized the Jews’ entry.
That’s how many of my friend’s grandparents arrived to what they saw a “land of opportunities.” Joining Jews that were already here and arrived later escaping their countries for other reasons, they established the Jewish Community that I grew up in.
Venezuela also received my own family with open arms. It received my maternal grandparents who escaped Aleppo, Syria when the country gained independence from France. Clashes between Arabs and Jews escalated with the idea of the state of Israel coming under international consideration after WWII. After the partition of Israel was approved in 1947, more than 200 homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed, and the 2500-year-old Jewish community was devastated. My grandparents arrived in Venezuela back then, in search for a stable future.
My dad’s parents came from Cuba fleeing Batista’s dictatorial rule, also in search of opportunities. With a degree in Law and Accounting, my grandpa was able to have a prominent professional life.
None of them could have foreseen what came next. The country was completely transformed from a refuge into a hostile, threatening place. And so we, the young, are leaving in search of exactly what our ancestors came looking for: a better future.
According to this piece on NBC, the Jewish community in Venezuela has shrunk from 25 thousand in 1990 to 9 thousand in 2011. Families are increasingly taking root in the Miami suburbs, they report.
I’ve seen this in my own family, and I can say with certainty that what they are looking for is a community that resembles the one they lived in here. “There’s no Jewish community like the one we had in Venezuela” say displaced Jews with regret- and I include myself here, remembering how they grew up in a cohesive, supportive community.
Although most of the Jews who have left the country have done so for the same reasons that non-Jews have: crime being at the top of the list.
But the fact that the community’s place in Venezuelan society was – is – under threat became a source of concern for leaders of Jewish institutions who have struggled with integration and mutual contribution since the community was established. Signs of anti-Semitism in the government became evident in 2009, when Chavez condemned the state of Israel, expelled the Israeli ambassador and conducted meetings with Iran’s Ahjmadinejad. Our Holocaust survivors saw in the news how our president shook hands with a leader who denied what they and their loved ones had gone through.
I graduated from Hebraica, Caracas’ Jewish school, in 2011, along with 120 other students. Of those, at least half have already left the country, and most of the other half is planning on leaving. Only 69 students are graduating this year. Each younger cohort has fewer students, a sign that entire families are leaving along with their kids, and that our community becomes smaller every day.
Leaving the country that opened its arms to our roots is perplexing. Some of us remember the way we grew up, and wish to come back some day to have our future kids grow up the same way. Others still don’t even consider the possibility of coming back because members of their families or themselves have been through terrible situations that they want to protect their future families from- kidnappings, something many friends have experienced.
The same country that received our ancestors is practically pushing us away. This will always add a touch of irony to our homesickness.
VENEZUELA JEWS FEARFUL IN SHADOW OF REBEL RIOTS
Haaretz by Shlomo Papirblat Mar 11 2014
A year into the post-Chavez era, Jews are staying out of the fray, but worry about rising violence.
"On the one hand, for three weeks now I’ve been unable to get to work and our young son hasn’t been able to go to school. The city is filled with barricades, you can’t get from one place to another, and you may suddenly find yourself in the midst of a clash between protesters and police, or worse – the armed Chavista militias, and that’s really dangerous. Eighteen people have been killed so far, and hundreds wounded. On the other hand, this situation has given my wife and me plenty of time to stand for hours in line in front of the local supermarket, for the chance to get to buy some fresh milk, or eggs and vegetables."
The speaker is Hugo, a man in his fifties who belongs to the Jewish community of Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, where these days many streets are covered with a haze of smoke and tear gas. The raucous demonstrations by students and opposition members against the regime of Nicolás Maduro, who succeeded the late Hugo Chavez a year ago, are disrupting life and elsewhere around the country as well.
Government spokesmen describe the situation as “an uprising of fascists and terrorists against a democratically elected government.” The opposition describes local events as constituting “the violent and illegal suppression of legitimate protests against the dire situation in the country, against the lack of personal security and the failing economy.”
Amid all of this, members of Venezuela’s Jewish community, most of whom live in the capital, are trying to keep their heads above water.
I was told, for instance, that about two weeks ago several dozen of the capital's Jews went to the Centro Creativo Brief-Kohn, a Jewish social and cultural center, to hear a lecture by Rona Risquez, a senior editor at the El Nacional newspaper. The subject of her talk, and of the discussion that followed: “Advice and ideas on how to live and travel in relative safety in today’s Venezuela.”
Until the beginning of the previous decade, when Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution began to take hold, there were an estimated 22,000 Jews living in the country. Many were involved in business and commerce, and some even served in important government positions, as ministers or ambassadors. The community, which built schools, cultural institutions and synagogues, maintained a thriving Jewish life and generally had excellent relations with non-Jewish society.
Two waves of Jewish immigration to Venezuela in the 20th century lent the local community its two-fold Ashkenazi-Sephardi character: The first involved Holocaust survivors who arrived after World War II; the second included Moroccan Jews who emigrated after the 1967 Six-Day War.
However, under Chavez (1999-2013), and especially in the last five to six years of his rule, the great exodus of Venezuelan Jews began. “Pretty much anybody who could leave did so,” a few local Jews told Haaretz. Some families immigrated to Israel, they said, while others moved to the United States, mostly to Miami. Those who preferred to remain in Latin American surroundings chose to make their new homes in Costa Rica or Panama or Colombia.
Today the number of Jews left in Venezuela is estimated to be less than half of those before Chavez came to power: between 9,000 and 11,000. The data are not precise since not all Jews are registered with Jewish institutions are have a connection with the community. One of the two large Jewish schools has already closed in Caracas, and the second is operating with smaller classes. A small Orthodox school is still in operation.
FEAR OF 'LOCAL INITIATIVES'
There is no question that within the regime of Chavez – who himself made some truly despicable statements against Jews and Israel – there were anti-Semitic elements. It’s not clear, however, whether he was directly behind the numerous anti-Jewish reports in the media during his tenure, or the anti-Semitic attacks like the one in 2009, when a group of 15 armed men invaded the Tiferet Israel synagogue, occupied the place for several hours, took hostages and caused major property damage.
Incidentally, the current president, Maduro, who was foreign minister back then, condemned that incident as “a criminal act of vandalism.”
Chavez's policy of harsh criticism of Israel, the severance of diplomatic relations with Israel, his support of regimes like that of the late Muammar Gadhafi in Libya and of Bashar Assad in Syria, and the close partnership he developed with Ahmadinejad’s Iran – all this contributed to a dangerous mix of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in various parts of the regime.
Maduro, according to people in the Jewish community, has not exhibited anti-Semitic tendencies. What they fear today, though, are “local initiatives by militias who decide to take the law in their own hands – those from the lower ranks that might try to divert the anger of the masses, as has happened to the Jews countless times in history.”
Ten days ago, President Maduro saw to it that a representative of the Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela (the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, or CAIV) was invited to take part in the national peace conference, which he convened in Caracas 10 days ago. Attendees included businessmen, politicians, unionists and others. During the event, held in a lavish hall in the presidential palace, Vice President Salón Ayacucho spoke about national reconciliation.
The CAIV representative, Dr. Miguel Truzman, spoke about peace and tolerance, quoting from "Ethics of the Fathers" (which outlines the Torah's views on ethics and interpersonal relationships). At the end of his remarks, Truzman told the president and others present: “We came here to contribute and to propose that the words ‘we’ and ‘they’ be expelled from the political discourse in the country. We are all Venezuelans.”
“This is really the current situation,” explained Hugo. “The Jews are not being forced to stand out amid the chaos. They have no connection in word or action with what is going on. I haven’t seen any officials or anyone else trying to tie these events to the Jews, or, God forbid, to physically harm them – at least according to what I know and hear from the people around me.
"Everyone here shares the same exact fate these days. Life is hard. Things are really heating up in the streets. The students and the opposition people are becoming more organized with their protest against the government, and I’m afraid that the worst is yet to come.”
Getting through by phone to people living elsewhere in the country is no easy thing these days, he added. The lines only work intermittently and even when they do, the reception is terrible.
“I don’t know if it’s deliberate, but I gather it is," said Hugo. "The government is fighting what it sees as a global campaign against Venezuela. It’s harder to use the Internet now, too. I’ve already switched email services a few times in order to stay in touch.”
Asked what he is planning to do, Hugo said: “After much deliberation, my wife and I bought plane tickets to America, for June. We’ll look at our options. But it’s not easy. True, a lot of people have left, but I also know families that ended up coming back. It didn’t work out for them elsewhere, and they decided they’d rather live in a place they knew at least, for better or worse. But it’s important to stress that most [Jews] who have left did so amid a general wave of emigration from Venezuela: A million citizens are said to have migrated to other countries recently.”
Anna, 68, a Jew who lived in Caracas for more than 50 years and left two years ago, is very concerned about the goings-on: “I still have relatives in Venezuela. The way things have been going in the last few years, it’s not easy for them to leave. I founded and ran a successful business there, and when I left, there was no way I could get back all the investment I put in during all those years. I had to sell the business for practically nothing, and it was also very hard to take any foreign currency out of the country.
“Besides, it’s hard for older people to think about change. Some people just love Venezuela and are still hoping that things will change for the better, though I think that’s unrealistic. I also know families who have people who are sick, and while the level of medical care at the hospitals is not good and there’s a shortage of medication and so on – at least they get what there is for free. Nobody believes me when I tell them there are poor Jews in Venezuela.
"Then there are those who’ve found a middle way: People who moved their family and their kids to Miami, say, and still work in Venezuela all week and fly back on the weekends to be with their families.”
WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS
VENEZUELA, BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC OF
Jewish Population 12,000*
The vast majority of the Venezuelan Jews live in Caracas (95%). The Jews are evenly divided between Ashkenazim and Sephardim and are fully integrated. Small organized communities are located in other cities: Maracaibo, Porlamar, Valencia and San Cristobal.
The VAAD HAKEHILOT (Venezuelan Jewish Community Board) sets the policies and philosophical guidelines to strengthen and ensure continuity of the Community and quality of Jewish life by providing religious, educational, medical, cultural, sporting and social services to its members. All the services are provided equally to every member of the Community without any kind of discrimination. The following Institutions comprise the VAAD:
AIV (Asociacion Israelita de Venezuela), founded in 1930, gathers Sephardic members
UIC (Union Israelita de Caracas), founded in 1950, gathers Ashkenazi members
CAIV (Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela) founded in 1966, the umbrella organization, represents the Jewish community to national and international agencies and to Jewish Institutions around the world. CAIV maintains contact with Israel, defends the practice of Judaic values and combats any kind of discrimination with special emphasis on the fight against anti-Semitism. CAIV includes the following Confederated Associations: AIV; UIC; FSV (Federacion Sionista de Venezuela), the Zionist organization;B’nai B’rith; FVMJ (Federacion Venezolana de Mujeres Judias), central body of Jewish women organizations. Youth movements and representatives from other cities are also affiliated.
SEC (Sistema Educativo Comunitario) is an inclusive educational system for Jewish children in school age. The Colegio Moral y Luces Herzl Bialik, founded in 1946, offers kindergarten, elementary and high school. Other Institutions, not within the SEC, that also serve educational needs are: Colegio Cristobal Colon Sinai and the Kolel Nahalat Yacov (Orthodox education), both in Caracas, and Colegio Bilu in Maracaibo.
The main social and cultural organization, CSCD Hebraica (Centro Social Cultural y Deportivo), inaugurated in 1974, is the Venezuelan equivalent of a JCC. It also offers educational, religious, social, cultural, recreational and sporting activities to ensure the Jewish and Zionist identity.
Beit Avot is the home for elderly people.
Other community programs of the Vaad Hakehilot are: AVODA, that offers employment opportunities to the community through labor intermediation, entrepreneurship and training. PROYECTO DE VIDA, which provides counseling and promotes family values. YAJAD Red de Asistencia Social, a network of ten institutions working together that provide aid for the most needy of our Community.
NMI (Nuevo Mundo Israelita) is the weekly newspaper that publishes community events, religious topics, news from Israel, and opinion articles from local and international contributors. NMI website
There are other Institutions, outside the VAAD scope, such as Keren Hayesod, Keren Kayemet le Israel, Yad Vashem, Benei Akiva, Hashomer Hatzair, organizations of friends of various Universities in Israel, ICVI (Venezuelan Israeli Cultural Institute), CEVI (Venezuelan Israeli Economic Chamber).
There are around 15 synagogues in Venezuela, mainly Orthodox. The majority of Ashkenazi and Sephardic synagogues are in Caracas. Synagogues can also be found in cities such as Maracaibo, Porlamar, Valencia, Maracay, and Puerto La Cruz. There is also a Chabad Lubavitch synagogue. Beth Shemuel is a Sephardic ultra-Orthodox congregation and has its own community center. In Caracas kosher food is available at several stores.
The Venezuelaen community is very Zionist with very strong ties to Israel. There are various intellectual, academic, religious, cultural, and sporting interchanges between Venezuela and Medinat Israel. Since 1963 there is a summer trip to Israel for high school students that contributes to their education and understanding of their roots, the studying of the Holocaust, and gaining awareness of their Jewish identity and continuity.
In January 2009, during the operation "Cast Lead", the Venezuelan government unilaterally broke off diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.
The oldest Jewish cemetery in South America is in the city of Coro, where the oldest tombstone dates from 1832
CAIV (Confederacion de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela)
Av. Marques del Toro # 9 San Bernardino
Apartado de Correos 14.452 Caracas 1011A
Tel. 58 2 510 368, Fax. 58 2 515 253
History of the Jews in Venezuela
Venezuela Virtual Jewish Library
Jews of Venezuela, the new Diaspora, Eleonora Bruzual, Jerusalem Post 2/11/2014
What leaving Venezuela means to Jews Caracas Chronicles
The Jewish World: Venezuela
WorldJewish Congress, 2014 (1.57)
Chavez's War Against the Jews
Paul Martson, 2010 (4.45)
Venezuelan Jews react to death of Hugo Chavez, 2013 (3.42)
South American Jews flee
Venezuela amid growing security
fears and rising tide of
JewishNewsOne, 2014 (3.11)
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE