JERUSALEM (EJP)—As a result of the political clash between Israel and Venezuela and the bad economic situation in this country, 26 Venezuelan Jews left their native country for Israel where they arrived this week.
Of these, six olim arrived Tuesday, and twenty new immigrants landed yesterday- Wednesday.
All the new olim (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 Israel.
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.
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 crisis is doubled by the escalation of political tension and violence which has already claimed many lives and caused countless injuries in the almost daily demonstrations. There are also numerous reports of human rights violations, excessive use of force, massive detentions and trials of civilians by military courts. The European Union this week urged the Venezuelan authorities ‘’to respect the Constitution and the rule of law and to ensure that fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to peaceful demonstration, are guaranteed.’’
The Jewish community in Venezuela 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 start 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.
In Caracas live presently some 1,400 elderly Jews and 500 children. Among the small community, 700 families are supported by community charities.
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 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.
The president of the IFCJ, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, stressed that his organization 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,’’ Eckstein explained.
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," he added.