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March 26, 2009 - Image 34

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2009-03-26

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Living In Fear

Venezuela Jews rebuild after synagogue attack.

Jasmina Kelemen

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Caracas

T

he quiet on a residential street
in this eastern Venezuelan city is
shattered by construction crews
as workers perched on a scaffolding place
panels of marble on the external wall of a
two-story synagogue.
The construction occurs under the
watchful eye of local police, who monitor
the street around the clock. From their
post on the corner, the police van has
kept surveillance over the site since late
January, when an older synagogue in the
rundown Mariperez district of Caracas
was attacked and desecrated.
Committed to their future here, Caracas
Jews are building a new synagogue to
replace the 50-year-old Sephardic syna-
gogue that was attacked. They must do so
under police protection.
On Jan. 30, more than a dozen assail-
ants invaded Tiferet Israel, overpowering
two security guards and disabling the
surveillance system. They desecrated holy
objects, stole a computer database with
the congregation's personal information
and put the city's Jews on edge.
"It's something that is really shock-
ing and that has never been seen before
in Venezuela. Never, ever',' said Federica
Palomero, who curates a small museum at
Tiferet Israel. "In Venezuela, there's a tradi-
tion of coexistence, tolerance, respect and
mutual admiration."
Synagogue members say that anti-
Semitic graffiti began to appear on the
temple's exterior walls in January, after
President Hugo Chavez expelled the Israeli
ambassador to protest the Israeli military
operation in the Gaza Strip.
As Chavez ratcheted up his rhetoric
against Israel, calling it a genocidal state,
the official media followed suit, calling
for a boycott on local Jewish businesses
unless they publicly denounced Israel.
Venezuelan Jews, who first arrived in
the 1700s, say an unprecedented wave of
anti-Semitism has followed.
"People are being taught to hate said
Venezuelan Chief Rabbi Pynchas Brener.
"Venezuela has never seen anything like
this before."
"We've never had any kind of political

A34

March 26 2009

or social problems in
Venezuela," he went
on. "Venezuelans are
extremely tolerant; they
accept differences!'
Other attacks and
outbursts of hostility
followed the Tiferet
Israel attack. In
February, unknown
assailants lobbed a
small explosive into a
Caracas Jewish commu-
nity center.
A local production
of Fiddler on the Roof
was even caught in the
maelstrom after the
orchestra chairman
pulled out of the musi-
cal, possibly because
of the play's Jewish
content.
The play's producer,
Michel Hausmann, said
Manuel Torres, who had A new synagogue being built in Caracas will replace a 50-year-old Sephardic synagogue that was
performed in Fiddler
attacked in January.
in the past, felt that to
do so this year would
chairman of the House of Representatives
be politically offensive and threaten his
As Tiferet's Palomero guides a visitor
foreign
affairs subcommittee on the
through a small exhibit of pictures showing
financial support from the state.
Western
Hemisphere, to assemble a con-
the
destruction
caused
by
the
attack,
she
Torres refused to comment about the
says
the
attack
does
not
reflect
the
attitudes
gressional
commission on religious free-
case with JTA. But in an interview several
of
Venezuelans
toward
Jews
"but
rather
doms
in
Venezuela.
days earlier with a local daily, the chair-
Israel also is using its diplomatic muscle
man denied being pressured and said
those of a small group" that is "small, but
to
keep the spotlight on Venezuela's treat-
active,
dangerous
and
supported!'
the orchestra was concentrating on other
ment
of the Jewish community. Its Foreign
Like
many
Caracas
Jews,
Palomero
events.
Ministry
has asked 15 countries with
declined
to
say
who
she
believes
is
behind
For its part, the government has been
ties to Venezuela to bring up the issue
erratic in its response to the attacks on the the attacks. But Jewish leaders from over-
with Chavez, according to the Israeli daily
seas have made clear who they believe is
Jewish community.
Ha'aretz.
At first, Chavez and other members of
to blame.
"There has been a significant outbreak
"Now that I've been here and seen this
his government denounced the attack on
of
anti-Semitism there, and we wanted to
with
my
own
eyes,
I
have
no
doubt
that
Tiferet, promising the assailants would
send messages to Venezuela's president
direct responsibility for the attack on the
be quickly apprehended. But Chavez also
through several different channels in order
Tiferet Israel synagogue goes directly
blamed government opponents for the
to clarify the gravity with which we view
to the door of Hugo Chavez:' said Rabbi
raid and told the Jewish community not
the situation:' a senior government source
Shmuel Herzfeld of Congregation Ohev
"to allow themselves to be manipulated."
told the paper.
Sholom in Washington after a recent visit
Then the Interior Ministry arrested
Locally, the Jewish community has not
11 people, saying robbery was their real
to Caracas.
been directly outspoken against Chavez.
"The attack couldn't have happened
motive and that it simply was disguised as
without the permission of Chavez;' he said, Its members say they need to continue
a bias crime.
While local Jewish leaders have publicly noting the technical sophistication used to with their lives as before.
"Life goes on and one has to keep
break into the synagogue and crack safes
expressed their gratitude toward the gov-
working," Palomero said. "The Jews are
ernment for prioritizing the investigation,
inside.
Venezuelans, just like the Muslims, the
Herzfeld, who was part of a four-person
many in the community quietly express
Protestants and the Catholics. We're
delegation from North America, said he
doubt that the real perpetrators of the
Venezuelans and we're Jewish."
is pressing U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.,
attack will be brought to light.



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