'There is no food, only anti-Semitism,' Venezuelans make aliyah

The Jewish Agency is quietly assisting Jews to leave Venezuela and make aliyah to Israel. 'It's dangerous to walk on the streets.'

Sara Rubenstein ,

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks to soldiers
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks to soldiers

Two families who fled from Venezuela landed at Ben-Gurion on Wednesday amidst hundreds of olim from other countries. They received clandestine assistance to leave the country from the Jewish Agency.

Venezuela, a once-wealthy country has descended into crisis over the past few years, with the current situation being total anarchy and economic destitution. The Jewish community, which included 25,000 members in the 1990s is down to about 4,000 members, with most Jews immigrating to the US, Mexico, Panama or other countries. Only about 12% immigrate to Israel, according to Jewish Agency chairman Yitzchak Herzog.

"We had to leave Venezuela," Avraham Ben Dayan, who immigrated to Israel with his wife and three children, told Ynet on Wednesday. "For three or four years now, the economic situation is not normal. The most basic things are missing, such as diapers for children and toilet paper, and it's also a very dangerous place."

Although Avraham had wanted to immigrate to Israel for a long time, his wife was reluctant to move. However, that changed following a power outage in Caracas six months ago. "It lasted for two days. They didn't update residents about anything. Those were very frightening days because there was nothing to buy. It wasn't possible to leave the house at all. There was real anarchy - people robbed the stores and if you had to buy something it cost a lot of money."

"We were eight siblings in Venezeula until a year ago. Today, I'm the last one to leave." Avraham's father emigrated to Mexico but he chose Israel. "If I already have to leave, I think that this is simply where I need to move. Besides, I always wanted to go to a place of Torah to learn so for me it was no question."

Herzog told Ynet on Thursday the arrival of the two families on Wednesday was only the "first drizzle."

"There are about 5,000 Jews living today in Venezuela, a country where the situation of the Jews is not simple," Herzog said. "The political crisis in Venezuela is well known, and the tension is enormous. There is a lot of anti-Semitism and the tension is liable to explode any minute. There are many threats and hatred towards the Jews. The infrastructure is also collapsing and there are constant power outages."

Herzog said that the hostility toward Jews in Venezuela is due to its partnership with Iran, which he calls "one of the most complex geopolitical developments in Latin America."

Devorah Silbara, who also immigrated to Israel from Venezuela on Wednesday told Ynet that the anti-Semitism she experienced in Venezuela was one of the reasons she decided to leave. "The former president (Hugo Chavez) spoke about the Jews and cursed them - it was difficult."

"Things are getting worse. Work is very difficult, security, medicine - everything is deteriorating," Silbara said. She added that the situation has gotten so bad that it's difficult to obtain food and it's dangerous to walk on the streets.

"Many Jews are leaving Venezuela for all types of places around the world. There are many Jews who came to Israel because there are many opportunities for a better life. Besides, I think that this is our place, our country. The state of Israel grants us many possibilities to grow. For my daughter, this is a good opportunity to develop and study in a regular country. It's a decision I'm very happy about. I was not afraid to do it. I have family here and this is our country."

Silbara, born in Caracas and the daughter of an Israeli mother and a father of Syrian origin lived in Israel for a year as a small child.