Despite economic crisis, a tyrannical regime allied closely with Iran, and growing unrest, some 6,000 Jews remain in Caracas, some holding out hope that President Nicolas Maduro will be toppled. Annika Hernroth-Rothstein, having spent a few weeks in the country, reports on the Jewish community there:
Kidnappings are one of the few profitable businesses here in Venezuela. . . . Members of the Jewish community, who are generally assumed to be wealthy, are popular targets. Some of the remaining Jews here are, in fact, better off financially than the general population, but, wealthy or not, they are a vulnerable minority living in a tumultuous failed state. . . .
Life [for Venezuelan Jews] is lived behind barriers, and Hebraica, [Caracas’s Jewish community] center, does not even allow my bodyguard—every journalist here must have one—and driver inside. I am shocked by how vast it is, a city inside a city, with schools, a bank, tennis courts, and restaurants. The Jewish community truly lives here: I see men in kippot having coffee and a game of backgammon as kindergarteners play wildly on the monkey bars. . . .
Although the diplomatic relationship between the state of Israel and the government of Venezuela is in shambles, identification with Israel is a large part of Jewish identity here. There are Israeli flags everywhere in Hebraica. Most of the children go on at least one communally subsidized trip to Israel while they’re at school, and many speak Hebrew as a result of the schools’ ambitious curriculum. There’s a mix of the religious and secular in the education here at Hebraica, as well as in the community. . . .
Venezuela’s Independence Day coincides with the first Passover seder this year. As all Venezuelans wonder what this Independence Day will bring, some of them will also be thinking about whether there will be enough matzah and kosher wine, and under what circumstances they will celebrate the festival of freedom.