26 Jews flee Venezuelan crisis to Israel

Riots, violence, food shortages driving Venezuelans out.

 Michal Levy with her 3 children and IFCJ coordinator for aliya from Latin America Debbie Ashkenazi (right) at Ben Gurion Airport on July 26, 2017 (photo credit: IFCJ)
Michal Levy with her 3 children and IFCJ coordinator for aliya from Latin America Debbie Ashkenazi (right) at Ben Gurion Airport on July 26, 2017
(photo credit: IFCJ)
Twenty-six Jews from Venezuela immigrated to Israel on Tuesday and Wednesday, part of a general surge in emigration from the country as its political and economic crises have paralyzed parts of the nation.
While thousands of their countrymen are heading over the borders to other Latin American countries, some Jewish Venezuelans have opted to use their eligibility for citizenship in Israel.
On July 30, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is holding a vote to create a legislative super-body that would have the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions.
Near daily anti-government protests since April have seen masked youths with stones, Molotov cocktails and homemade mortars battling riot police using tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.
“The situation is very hard,” Michal Levy, 35, told The Jerusalem Post over the phone from Ben-Gurion Airport shortly after arriving in Israel with her three children on Wednesday on one of two flights organized by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Seven families arrived on the two flights.
“It’s hard to get basic things like bread and flour,” Levy said, adding that she had been afraid to leave the house due to the riots and for fear that a member of her family could be kidnapped for ransom – a common phenomenon in the country.
Levy’s son suffers from a skin allergy for which he requires medication, but she had not been able to obtain any recently.
“Three months ago we understood we couldn’t continue living here,” she said.
“For more than a week you can’t leave the house – it’s not simple.”
Levy is a returning Israeli citizen, having left for Venezuela five-and-a-half years ago for her husband’s work.
She taught at a Jewish school in Caracas and described the Jewish community as “very supportive.” She said many in the community are wealthy – though there is a range of socioeconomic status among them – and they always help one another obtain ransom money if there is a kidnapping in the community, making them a desirable target.
Members of the community are constantly leaving the country, some to Panama or the US, others to Israel.
Levy’s family is heading to Rishon Lezion. “I know it will be better for my children here, at home, and that’s what’s important,” she said.
In contrast to Levy’s remark, the Fellowship maintains that while the majority of the Jewish community in Venezuela used to be wealthy, most of those who had the means have left the country.
Several of the families who made aliya were in severe economic distress, the organization noted. An estimated 5,000-9,000 Jews remain in Venezuela. Within that community, the Fellowship says, are some 1,400 elderly and some 500 children. Seven hundred families, it says, are supported by community welfare agencies.
In addition to the absorption benefits all immigrants receive from the State of Israel, the Fellowship funds the Venezuelans’ flights to Israel and grants them $400 per child and $800 per adult. The Fellowship also assists the immigrants for half a year, helping place the children in educational institutions and providing social and welfare assistance. By the end of 2017, the Fellowship expects to have brought 100 immigrants from Venezuela.
“The Fellowship is focused on helping Jews around the world who are in financial or security distress and helping them immigrate to Israel and build a new and safe life,” said the president of the Fellowship, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.
“For the last year and a half, the Fellowship has helped 200 Jews immigrate to Israel and is also helping the Jewish community by providing them with medicines that are unobtainable there,” he added.
Reuters contributed to this report.