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Venezuela: Another Jewish Exodus
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Caracas—Monday morning starts like any other. Traffic is still light through Avenida Principal de Los Chorros, the main avenue in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in east Caracas. At 6:30 a.m., security guards at Centro Social, Cultural y Deportivo Hebraica—a Venezuelan Jewish school and community center—are preparing to receive 1,500 students and their parents.

Suddenly, a dozen investigative police vehicles surround the building. Some 25 armed officers storm the community center, searching for guns and explosives. It's still early, so there are no children in the school—just a few adults, mostly workers and people exercising. Classes and regular activities are immediately suspended, and cars that try to enter now are being stopped, causing a traffic jam along Avenida Principal and alarming parents, students, and neighbors.

"At 7:20 a.m. officers check the elevator shafts and go up to the roof. At 7:45 a.m. they look inside the electricity room, and the swimming pool pump station. At 8:15 they check the main warehouse," writes Anabella Jarolasky, executive director of the center, in a detailed record. Around 9 a.m., police officers leave without finding any weapons. Government officials say the raid was ordered in relation to the assassination of state attorney Danilo Anderson, killed in a car explosion. According to a lawyer of the Hebraica, a proceeding against the school was opened and never closed. This was seven years ago, and it marked the turning point for the Venezuelan Jewish community.

Seven Years Go By

Today, sitting beside the club's Olympicsize swimming pool, Salomon Cohen, president of Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela (CAIV ), the Jewish community's central organization, remembers the raid on November 29, 2004, as "a direct attack on Venezuela's Jewish community. They wanted to let us know who is in charge," Cohen says.

Since then, the community has received several more threats. On a Saturday evening in December 2007, there was a second raid at Hebraica. After Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip in January 2009, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez expelled the Israeli Ambassador as an expression of what government officials termed "solidarity with the heroic people of Palestine." Later that month, on Shabbat, about 15 unidentified men attacked the Sephardic Tiferet Israel Synagogue, in northeast Caracas. They scrawled anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli messages on the walls, ransacked offices, and desecrated Torahs. Eleven of the attackers were later arrested, and eight were found to be police officers. A month later, a group of unidentified people threw a homemade explosive into a Jewish community center in a nearby middle-class neighborhood.

These attacks and Chávez's anti-Israeli rhetoric, along with rising crime and a lack of opportunities for young people, have spurred a mass exodus. There are no official statistics, but in the past 12 years, more than half the city's Jews have fled, according to estimates by Jewish community leaders. Today, community members say there are between 9,500 and 14,000 Jews in Venezuela, down from around 22,000 when Chávez took power in 1999. Those who remain are mostly lower- and middle-class families who don't have the resources to leave. Together with a few wealthy businessmen, they struggle to keep the community vibrant as their numbers dwindle.

In the Unión Israelita de Caracas, one of the main institutions of Venezuela's Jewish Community, there is a small room with a sign on the door that reads, "Centro de Recopilación de Publicaciones Comunitarias" (Community Publications Compilation Center). Inside, five people monitor anti-Semitic and anti-Israel messages by the Chávez government in the media. The office was created in 2006 as a reaction to the growing anti-Semitic rhetoric, explains Sammy Eppel, a political columnist who is working to raise awareness of the situation of Jews in Venezuela. "Now we have to be more alert," he says.

Mario Silva, host of "La Hojilla" (The Razorblade), a late-night political talk show broadcast on state television, has repeatedly accused members of the Jewish community of participating in the failed coup against Chávez in April 2002. Earlier this year, Cristina...



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