When the Venezue­lan Jews landed at Ben Gu­rion, they first wanted to eat

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY NATHAN JEFFAY

FLEE­ING THE chaos and hunger at home, 26 Venezue­lan Jews have just ar­rived in Is­rael — and dozens more are hop­ing to fol­low by the end of the year.

One of the new ar­rivals is Michal Levy, a mother-of-three who of­ten found her­self scared to leave the house. She said she made the move when she reached the con­clu­sion that “there is no hope for im­prov­ing con­di­tions in Venezuela”.

Ar­riv­ing in Is­rael is less daunt­ing for her than oth­ers, as she is orig­i­nally Is­raeli — but she faced the same hard­ships in Venezuela as every­one else.

In com­ments to the or­gan­i­sa­tion that ar­ranges aliyah from the South Amer­i­can coun­try, the In­ter­na­tional Fel­low­ship of Chris­tians and Jews (IFCJ), she said: “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.”

Some 100 Venezue­lans have made aliyah since last June and a fur­ther 100 are ex­pected by the end of this year, said Rabbi Yechiel Eck­stein, head of the IFCJ. His or­gan­i­sa­tion helps Jews move to Is­rael from var­i­ous coun­tries, but he said that only from Venezuela have peo­ple ar­rived at Ben Gu­rion Air­port fam­ished.

When one group of im­mi­grants landed, “the first thing they asked was to go to a restau­rant in the air­port, to McDon­ald’s,” he said. “It was heartwrench­ing.”

There are around 4,000 Jews left in Venezuela — though some es­ti­mates sug­gest a higher fig­ure. “The el­derly are go­ing to ride this to its con­clu­sion but for the younger ones, es­pe­cially fam­i­lies, things have be­come so dire, in­clud­ing hunger and med­i­cal needs, that they come to this tip­ping point”, the rabbi said. New be­gin­ning: Levy ar­riv­ing in Is­rael with her son and, above, chaos in Cara­cas

For many, aliyah is seen as the an­swer.

Rabbi Eck­steon said that the strong­est el­e­ments of the com­mu­nity had al­ready re­lo­cated — to the US. “Most of the wealthy ones left a while ago and live in Mi­ami, and they have left the poor and the el­derly. Some who left are still send­ing money to the com­mu­nity but for the most part the com­mu­nity can­not cope.”

His or­gan­i­sa­tion is help­ing to pro­vide food, medicines and se­cu­rity pa­trols, as well as ar­rang­ing aliyah.

Emi­grat­ing from Venezuela is a com­plex busi­ness. Cit­i­zens have to go to a neigh­bour­ing state be­fore they can even sub­mit a re­quest for an exit visa and au­thor­i­ties have the power to hold up such re­quests — though so far ap­pli­ca­tions from Jewish emi­gres have been smooth. The lo­gis­tics of travel are com­pli­cated, as trans­port sys­tems are dan­ger­ous and many peo­ple try not to leave their homes af­ter dark for fear of vi­o­lence. Rabbi Eck­stein said that Venezue­lans who ar­rive in Is­rael re­ceive fi­nan­cial and ca­reer sup­port from his or­gan­i­sa­tion. “Cir­cum­stances in present­day Venezuela are sim­ply cat­a­strophic,” he commented.

“We help them im­mi­grate to Is­rael and start fresh in a beau­ti­ful, new, and safe set­ting.”

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

PHOTO: IFCJ

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