By: Aharon Benchimol  | 

Rosh Hashana in Venezuela

Returning to Caracas to spend the chagim with my family and experience the situation of the Jewish community there inspired me to write down my reflections on what it is like to live in Venezuela today.

As is well known from the news, Venezuela is currently experiencing the worst political and economic crisis since its independence in 1811. A corrupt authoritarian regime has turned the country with the largest oil reserves in the world into a country full of poverty and desolation.

An ideology that was supposed to make society more equal by diminishing the upper class and  “empowering” the working class has ended up just creating and enriching a new upper class.

The country is paralyzed and people no longer have faith in the economy. The enormous level of inflation has eaten away at any remaining hope for the economy. The majority of stores in malls closed. Traffic in transit no longer exists: routes that used to take 30 minutes now take 5 minutes. In a country with the largest oil reserves in the world, it takes hours to wait in line for some gas.

The images of families rummaging for food scraps in the garbage on the street become more ordinary every day, to the point that it is now considered normal. Over four million Venezuelans have fled the country to look for better opportunities.

Sadly, the Jewish community cannot escape from this reality. Every day, the services of different Jewish organizations are needed more and more, to provide food and basic household goods along with medical assistance. Before traveling to Venezuela, my family asked me to bring several medicines with me. Some seemed unfamiliar. Upon arriving home, I realized that they were not only for my family, but for several other families as well. I saw that local WhatsApp groups are full of members of the community asking for medicines that they cannot find in the country. Another thing that shocked me about being home was seeing how busy the aliyah office was. In the midst of uncertainty, many Jewish families are now considering aliyah a precious opportunity to start from scratch in another country.

Middle-class Jews have transitioned from jobs like store managers and lawyers to less secure work like reselling car articles and imported food. With the minimum wage at $8 a month, it is the only work still available. 

On the first night of Rosh Hashana, panic appeared in every Jewish home as the lights shook and weakened, threatening a new electrical blackout. Just a few months ago, Venezuela experienced a blackout for over 3 days.

During the rest of the chagim, I attended two funerals. After leaving the second one, I tried to remember: when was the last time there was a wedding in Venezuela? The Jewish community is getting older, and most young people leave their families after graduating from high school in order to find opportunities in other countries.

Nevertheless, the community struggles to keep everything as normal as possible. The Jewish club Hebraica represents an oasis for the community and a place where you can forget for a few hours what is taking place outside. The synagogues strive to maintain their services as usual. In addition, several Jewish organizations based in America are aware of the needs of the Venezuelan Jewish community, and they bring a lot of assistance to our national Jewish organizations.

In spite of the terrible situation, the beauty of the Venezuelan nature remains intact. The vivid colors of the Avila mountain surrounding the capital give Venezuelans some hope. The trees fill the streets with colorful mangos, and the union between the enlightened blue of the ocean and the sky gives the Jewish community the strength to tackle this difficult situation. 

Photo Caption: The Jewish cemetery in Caracas
Photo Credit: Aharon Benchimol