What a riot! Simhat Torah in Santiago, Chile

With violent riots forcing Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to declare a national emergency just before Shabbat, how is the Jewish community in Chile faring?

https://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/Arrests-in-Chile-during-demonstrations-for-46th-anniversary-of-coup-601043 (photo credit: REUTERS/IVAN ALVARADO)
https://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/Arrests-in-Chile-during-demonstrations-for-46th-anniversary-of-coup-601043
(photo credit: REUTERS/IVAN ALVARADO)
It is common for family abroad to call those of us in Israel whenever violence hits the headlines. It is a strange feeling to be WhatsApping family at the other end of the world and turn the tables to ask “How are you?” in that tone that registers even over a cell phone; we in Israel are used to receiving it and not used to sending it.
With economic protest riots over two weeks turning violent, and a national emergency declared by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera this past Friday just before welcoming the Shabbat Bride in the southern hemisphere, how is the Jewish community faring? My cousin, Sandor Justin (not his actual name, given the current instability) described events in his neighborhood in Las Condes and adjacent Ñuñoa, upscale districts in Santiago.
Santiago is roughly one-third of the total Chilean population of 18 million, one of 12 cities declared under a state of emergency by Piñera, a billionaire conservative politician. These areas were issued travel advisory warnings by Israeli Ambassador Marina Rosenberg.
Justin, a security professional in Chile, married and father to college-age children, explained, “In Santiago, an army general is making the decisions about curfews and security, while in Valparaiso, a port city that leans far Left politically and is a communist strong-hold, is under the control of a navy admiral. The riots there were particularly harsh and curfews were set much earlier, from around 6 p.m.
“This past Friday night, on October 18, a curfew was set starting from 10 p.m. and ending at 6 a.m. The next day, Saturday, the curfew was from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m., while Sunday, it was set to start at 8 p.m., the evening of Shmini Atzeret. Monday night, the curfew was set at 7 p.m., the start of Simhat Torah. The curfew times were only announced hours before they began. Aish HaTorah [in Chile] sent out emails with tentative schedules based on possible curfew times. The Maariv evening prayer was said while still daylight. Around 30 men took sleeping bags to spend the night of Simhat Torah at the Chabad center, so they could celebrate as customary without fear of breaking curfew.”
He said there does not appear to be a Jewish issue beyond the political and economic inequities that are affecting the whole country.
He described the mood of some in the Jewish community as “uptight.” Security at synagogues has been organized by members of the community, not augmented by police.

WHILE IT HAS been unpleasant, Justin said, “it is much worse in underprivileged areas... they are suffering the most. They need the economic change the most. Without transportation, they can’t get to work. The labor minister has declared it is illegal to fire someone who cannot arrive at the workplace. Some businesses have been completely destroyed, and companies are not permitted to penalize or punish workers for lateness.”
Daniela Gleiser, a graphic artist at The Jerusalem Post who is now visiting her family in Chile, concurred, saying “most of the people are protesting... are burning and destroying the cities.” But, Gleiser added, this is true for the entire city, including the good neighborhoods.
“I know people who had their houses destroyed [windows, basically] and some insurgents tried to break into some houses as well. Also from Saturday [when everything started], people were yelling on the street saying ‘f***ing Jews,’ and things like that. And, as always, saying that the fault of the problem is [due] to us.”
Pepe Alvo, who is Jewish, has been manager of the Piamonte car dealership in Ñuñoa for eight years. His son and his family live in Modi’in.
Alvo’s place of work was destroyed by the mobs, with 11 new cars burned in two private lots and the management and sales offices demolished.
“Those of us who think with our heads can’t understand what’s happening – we agree that civil disobedience is necessary to protest the inequalities that must be addressed. But, we disagree with the way this is being done: stealing, burning. Eleven brand new cars were burned. This government doesn’t know how to handle it, the situation has simply exploded beyond their control.”
Despite Piamonte’s employees spending all day Sunday clearing debris, and not expecting more violence, rioters returned Sunday night to burn two more cars.
“We have no idea if we can get back to work or when,” Alvo said. “It takes time for insurance companies to pay [claims]. Meanwhile, the workers have no income. What was the benefit to rioters to burn and destroy businesses?”
Justin said there is a great sense of instability.
“Prices, so far, are being kept stable, but there are long lines at supermarkets [and] gas stations... Only one person per family may shop. The lines are incredible. There is a high level of bread consumption in Chile, and by noon, bread was all gone. The government is afraid to let prices rise, they fear a revolution. Like the Vietnam Syndrome in the US, the government is too timid to take too strong of a stand against the rioters, due to [August] Pinochet’s dictatorship [from 1973-1990], which still casts its shadow.”
Former MP Daniel Farkas from the Party for Democracy (PPD) served in Chile’s parliament from 2014-2018, and is Jewish. Farkas told the Post that the situation, as always, includes antisemites on the Right and the Left who take advantage of the situation.
“Even anarchists will be unlikely to make this into an [anti-Jewish] issue,” he said. “Yet, there are big Jewish institutions and established synagogues in wealthy neighborhoods that have not yet been targeted. But because of the anger of the poor people toward higher income people, these areas [may be vulnerable]. So far, it has not become a specifically Jewish problem.”
Justin said “There was Chile before Friday, and since then there is a sense of change. Things have changed forever.”


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