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August 19, 2016 8:45 am

In Dire Straits — Lacking Food, Medicine — Venezuelan Jews Receive Clandestine Aid From Relatives in Israel

avatar by Lea Speyer

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A line outside a Venezuelan supermarket. Photo: The Algemeiner.

A line outside a Venezuelan supermarket. Photo: The Algemeiner.

Venezuela’s Jews are suffering greatly from the country’s dire economic straits, relying on the black market and Israeli relatives for food and medicine, members of the community told The Algemeiner.

Sammy Eppel, director of B’nai B’rith Venezuela, said the lack of basic necessities “is especially difficult for the elderly.”

Eppel was referring to the state of emergency declared by the Venezuelan government in May, as a result of economic mismanagement, food shortages and low oil prices. To make matters worse, in June, the country’s Supreme Court ruled the receipt of foreign humanitarian aid unconstitutional. 

According to Eppel, the once vibrant Venezuelan Jewish community, which boasted 25,000 members 20 years ago, has dwindled to below 7,000. “Jews were specifically targeted by the regime-controlled media for what can only be called ‘subliminal persecution,’” he told The Algemeiner. “The situation got so bad that the community was forced to employ a group of professionals to monitor government-sponsored antisemitism and produce a yearly report.”

A Venezuelan-Jewish social-media activist — who spoke to The Algemeiner on condition of anonymity, due to previous threats by the government for his work — described what it’s been like to try to buy groceries.

“People used to line up at the store at two, three in the morning and just wait for it to open,” he said. “Now, you can only go after a certain time on certain days or you will be put in jail. There is no medicine and not enough food. You can’t even find toilet paper, shampoo or tires for your car. Pepsi and Coca Cola are long gone, since there is no sugar. There is nothing.”

Today, he said, goods are obtained in one of two ways. “For people who have money, the black market is the only way to buy things. At grocery stores, one kilo of rice costs 350 bolivar’s ($35), but you can’t find rice. On the black market, the same amount of rice costs 1,500 bolivar’s ($150),” he said, adding that the wealthy also travel abroad to purchase necessities.

Empty supermarket shelves in Venezuela. Photo: The Algemeiner.

Empty supermarket shelves in Venezuela. Photo: The Algemeiner.

He told The Algemeiner that last year he flew to the United States to buy medicine for his son, since “there isn’t even any acetaminophen left.” But, he added, when he tried to smuggle it into the country on his return, “The National Guard wanted to confiscate it all.”

The activist — who lives in the countryside — is the child of Holocaust survivors who settled in Venezuela after the war. He told The Algemeiner that his family “kept their Judaism under the radar,” after dictator Hugo Chavez took control of the government in 1999. As the situation worsened, he said, relatives who had already left the country urged his family to move to Israel.

In Israel, ex-pat Venezuelans are rallying behind their friends and loved ones in need back home. According to Chana — one such Venezuelan-Israeli who requested her last name not be published — the situation is becoming “increasingly worse,” making it “very common for the Jewish community there to ask family members living abroad to bring them medicine. Those with money travel to other places, especially Miami, for that purpose.”

Chana referred to the organization Yajad (the Spanish alliteration of the word “together” in Hebrew), which serves as the main humanitarian umbrella group assisting the Jewish community in Venezuela, saying, “It gathers everything — food, medicine, clothing — and distributes it to those in need.”

She said that Jews who can afford it hire a “bachaquero,” a person who stands on line at supermarkets or scours the black market for them.

“You have to find someone you can trust. They find what you need, but it’s not easy and you have to pay a lot,” Chana said.

When asked why those with means don’t pick up and leave the country, Chana explained: “There are Jews in very good economic positions that still live in Venezuela because the work they do pays them well, and they then use the money to support their children living outside of the country. They are willing sacrifice for their kids, whom they have sent elsewhere, including to Israel.”

Regarding those Jews who barely eke out a living, Chana told The Algemeiner, “They are in such a bad situation that they have no realistic possibility of leaving.”


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  • This article should have, but didn’t, say how we can donate for the benefit of distressed Venezualan Jews. What organizations are taking the lead on this – Federation?, HIAS?, whom?

  • Dani

    And we could have gone in the same path in Argentina. We´ve been very lucky I guess!

  • nat cheiman

    Everyone there suffers because Madoro is an idiot

  • Scott Miller

    7000 Venezuelan Jews = about 18 planes to Israel. Why would they stay in Ven? For what, to wait until they’re killed? Stupid, stupid, stupid. Not interested in opposing viewpoints, all b.s.

  • Ben elisha

    Yaakov..All the pain in this article…and all you can pickup on is “boasting”…what are you talking about?

  • NCS

    Can Israel reach out and bring these poverty stricken fellow Jews into the Land? Seems like there needs to be a rescue like Israel did for Ethiopian Jews.

  • Let’s save the remaining Jews and bring them wherever they want to go to.

    It’s only a matter of time before Maduro starts confiscating Jewish property and instigates a pogrom.

    It can happen there and it can happen here if the Jews don’t become strong and united.

    Where is Jabotinsky and Sharon and Begin?

  • len

    Time for the 7,000 to make Aliya no excuses . It would be the best “Birthright” ever. For the Jews who have good jobs in Venezuela, what good is it if your country is going to hell and you as a group are being demonized by the government. Have these Jews not learnt the lessons of the Holocaust? Or are they trying to adhere to the idea that Jews need to reject Zionism and try to go back to or stay in their countries of birth for Tikun Olam purposes even if their lives are in jeopardy? And which child or parent would accept money from their families who are staying in such dangerous circumstances.If people don’t learn the lesson of the Holocaust after the fact how then can we blame the people who didn’t react to Jabotinsky’s pleas to get out of Europe in 1938 before the fact!

  • As a pharmacist in Israel during the 80s I saw the same phenomenon with relatives of Romanian Jews helping their family in Romania. They bought vitamins especially because food was limited in Romania.

  • Azriel

    The ex-Venezuelas in Israel and all of us-including the government and organizations- must donate money to bring poor Venezuela Jews to Israel.

  • Believe it or not, certain left-wing political parties in the UK, such as the Cooperative Party, are sending money to Venezuela! Not much, granted, but they are contributing to propping up this evil regime. The world needs to understand that Venezuela is institutionally antisemitic and the Hugo Chavez version of Marxism is even worse than Stalin’s.

  • SteveHC

    This is almost exactly the way it was in the old USSR under “Marxist Socialism.”

  • A Koo

    All Jews who cannot make it abroad should move to Israel and let their Jewish brothers and sisters take care of them. It pains me that the elderly have no help. Immigrate to Israel and get financial and medical help.

  • Tullymd

    Need to evacuate them as we did for the Ethiopian Jews. What is a Jew doing in Hispanic lands. 1492 anyone? Nothing has changed.

  • Jerry Ram

    Considering the horrendous situation in Venezuela, would it not have been prudent to keep this a secret as opposed to broadcasting it? very disappointed that you thought this appropriate to advertise.

  • William Lewis Wexler

    I believe that Israel shoud finance the move, from Venezuela, to Israel, for those Jews that cannot afford it. If it could ne done for the Jews of Ethipopia and the Jews from the Arab countries it should be donefor all Jews that do not have the wherewithal

  • Natan

    We Jews living in the United States must rally around and assist our fellow Jewish comrades

    Their numbers are small enough that makes the task in hand my more easier to handle,

    I am personally open to suggests as to how we can forward aid etc.


  • Yaakov

    To say that the Jewish community was boasting does not do much for the reputation of Jews.

    • Azriel

      Do you understand, Yaakov, that your statement is somewhat anti-semitic? The reputation of Jews is not a function of your or my behaviour-only anti-semites think it is.

    • Ros Dobson

      ‘Boasting’ used in this sense means ‘had as many as’. Not that they went around telling everyone about themselves and/or how wonderful they were! (It appears to have been the opposite in fact. They kept a very low profile).