The Jewish community of Greece might be unable to pay its bills by 2013, unless
it receives aid from Jewish organizations abroad, local leaders have told The
Jerusalem Post, in recent weeks.
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Benjamin Albelas, the president of the
Jewish community of Athens, said his organization has been hard hit by the deep
recession afflicting the European nation and won’t be able to meet its financial
commitments a year-and-a-half from now in the current conditions.
financial situation, which as we know is very bad, has affected the Jewish
community very much and the situation of the Athenian Jewish community in Athens
– the largest in the country – is dire,” said Albelas, whose organization runs a
synagogue, a school and a museum that serve the city’s 3,000 Jews.
Saltiel, the head of the community in Thessaloniki, which has used its deeper
pockets to support needy Jewish communities around the country since the onset
of the financial troubles, confirmed the severity of the situation.
afraid that if something does not happen to save all the Jewish communities in
Greece we will be in a difficult situation,” he said.
“Worst of all is
not being able to support Jewish life, the synagogues, the schools and those in
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Since the recession began last year revenues from Jewish assets
and donations have dropped precipitously, making it increasingly difficult for
communities around the country to pay for services rendered to its 6,000
The biggest blow so far has been the new property
The measure, passed by the government earlier this month in a bid to
raise money to pay off its debtors, levies an additional 16 euros on every
Because the Jewish community’s biggest source of income is
real estate, its coffers have been particularly badly affected by the
“A lot of the property is either vacant because people cannot afford
them, or the tenants are demanding rents reduced by 40 percent or they threaten
to leave,” said Albelas.
In order to avoid bankruptcy, Greek Jews have
appealed to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), an
international relief group based in New York City, for help.
which has played a similar role in the past in places like Argentina, where it
stepped in to bolster the local Jewish community in the wake of the collapse of
the local currency in 2001, said it is in the process of considering the
“JDC is in close touch with leaders of the Greek Jewish
community, examining the potential effect of the current economic situation on
Jewish communal life and exploring ways of helping,” a spokesperson
Albelas estimated a grant or loan of between 300,000 to 400,000
euros from the JDC was needed, whereas Saltiel said a loan of $1 million
returned over a five year period would prevent potential insolvency.
said JDC’s head, Steve Schwager, is expected to travel to Athens later this year
In the meantime, JDC will begin auditing the community’s
“As always, we are doing the due diligence necessary to make
this a success and are currently waiting for additional financial information
from Athens’ Jewish community,” said JDC.
The likelihood of the loan
going through depends in part on the ability of Greece’s Jews to balance their
books, a process that would require painful cutbacks and layoffs.
respect the relationship between JDC and the Jewish community of Greece is
similar to that being played out on a much larger scale between the Greek
government and its lenders, the so-called Troika, consisting of The
International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European
Anticipating such demands, Greece’s Jewish leaders said they have
begun introducing austerity measures, but complain about the difficult choices
Albelas said he would introduce a 10% across-the-board cut in
salaries and trim other expenses including closing summer camps for
The Jewish community in Thessaloniki – which is on sounder
financial ground than the one in Athens because its proceeds from local real
estate are greater – said it too was reducing expenditures.
arrive at the age of pension might have to be let go,” said Saltiel, the head of
“The curator of the Jewish museum will be outsourced and
we are thinking maybe instead of having two rabbis, having only one. But we are
trying very hard to keep our Jewish life – it’s our life.” •
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