Following the political clash between Israel and Venezuela, and the economic, security, and social-welfare crises plaguing the South American country, 26 Jews left their native Venezuela behind and landed safely earlier this week (Tuesday & Wednesday) in Israel.
Of these, six olim arrived Tuesday, and twenty new immigrants landed on Wednesday. All the immigrants hail from the Venezuelan capital Caracas and surrounding suburbs, and they have long been anticipating the bureaucratic stamp of approval and release of documents that enable them to depart their native country and settle permanently in the Jewish homeland. Throughout the past months, some of the immigrant families have endured severe poverty, and others have suffered outright aggression and violence in the course of the deleterious political and economic changes in Venezuela.
Michal, a mother of 3 who just immigrated to Israel with her family, emotionally shares: “During these last months, we’ve come to realize that there is no hope for improving conditions in Venezuela. I felt a powerful drive to leave it all behind and return to Israel. My son suffers from chronic skin disease, and we have no means of procuring the creams or medicines that he needs to treat it. Every now and then, there is an unpredicted shortage of bread, flour, or another staple item. People are kidnapped in the streets for ransom on a regular basis. It’s dangerous to walk outside. My feeling now is that I’m returned to my homeland. I’ve come home, and it makes me so happy.”
Venezuela is currently in the midst of a severe political-economic crisis. Minimum wage in the country stands at a shocking 10$ per month, with the national currency exchange rate being 700 bolivars to the dollar. In contrast, the thriving black market offers the sale of one US dollar for 4,900 bolivars. The economic catastrophe in the country has created a catch-22 in which cars and houses are virtually worthless, while food and medicines can be obtained purchased only on the black market at ridiculously-inflated prices.
The Jewish community in Caracas presently encompasses some 1,400 elderly Jews and 500 children. Among the small community, 700 families are supported by community charities.
The Venezuelan Jewish community is gradually but persistently shrinking, despite the challenges of leaving the country. In order to submit a request for an exit visa, one must first depart the country to a neighboring country and commence the process there. Further complicating this are the dangers of the internal transportation system which, for the most part, causes people to stay put in their homes after dark.
Other statistics reveal that among the Jewish families supported by the communal charities, 10% receive educational scholarships; 20% benefit from medical assistance; 15% from funding for nursing homes; 30% receive help in purchasing food and other essentials; and 25% are exempted from paying community membership fees due to financial inability. In addition, given the harsh political-economic situation in their country and dire shortage of medicines, the community is forced to invest huge sums of money in order to procure life-giving medicines to the needy.
Aside from the financial aid package that every immigrant is entitled to receive from the government, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews funds the cost of airline tickets to Israel and endows each immigrant with a generous gift of $400 per child and $800 per adult. The Fellowship escorts new immigrants throughout the absorption process and their first six months in Israel, assisting and supporting them through initial stages of selecting housing and educational institutions, job placement, and acclimating to a new country, language and culture. To date, the Fellowship is the only official body actively endeavoring to bring Venezuelan immigrants to Israel. By the end of 2017, the Fellowship expects to bring some 100 immigrants from Venezuela to Israel.
President of the IFCJ Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein states: “The Fellowship focuses its efforts on assisting Jews around the world who are in any form of distress, be it economic, political, physical, or financial. We help them immigrate to Israel and start fresh in a beautiful, new, and safe setting. Circumstances in present-day Venezuela are simply catastrophic. Violence is rampant in the streets, and there is a hazardous shortage of food, medicine, and basic necessities. The local Jewish community numbers some 5,000 people, and many suffer the pangs of hunger and illness on a daily basis.
“In the past year-and-a-half alone, the IFCJ abetted 200 Jews in emigrating from Venezuela to Israel, and it supports the local Jewish community by providing patients with important medicines that are unavailable in the country. For the most part, the immigrants arrive penniless, but the Fellowship ensures to provide each new immigrant with a basic package of benefits as well as constant support and accompaniment throughout the challenging absorption process. I am pleased to see the government likewise taking special interest in Venezuelan olim, appreciating the severity of their circumstances and taking action to provide them with auxiliary support.”
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem/Photo Credit: IFCJ)