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Buenos Aires — Some 83 percent of approxiately 400 of the region’s Jewish leaders polled recently by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee believe that conditions in their countries are good enough to further develop Jewish life. Only 10 percent reported that living as a Jew is risky. Brazilians self-reported the most positive feedback, Venezuelans the most negative. The poll’s full results will be released at the Nov. 12 JDC meeting of Latin American and Caribbean Jewish community leaders, which will convene in Quito, Ecuador.
Venezuela is the notable exception to the wave of positivity among Latin American Jewish communities. Political insecurity, economic challenges and state-sponsored anti-Semitism in the country have prompted significant Jewish emigration in recent years, with most expats moving to the United States, Israel, Spain, Colombia or Panama. Venezuela now has an estimated 9,000 Jews, down from about twice that number a decade ago, according to the JDC.
The race for president in Venezuela has seen the incumbent, Hugo Chavez – a close ally of Iran and acerbic critic of Israel – use state media to lob anti-Semitic broadsides against his rival, Henrique Capriles Radonski, a grandson of Holocaust survivors who identifies as Catholic. The election is scheduled for Oct. 7.
In Chile, home to 15,000 Jews among a Palestinian Diaspora as large as 400,000, Rabbi Chaim Koritznisky is much more positive.
“Four years ago I was invited to Santiago by five families to build a new synagogue community called Ruach Ami,” said Koritznisky, who heads a Reform congregation. “The founders felt that there was a void in the Jewish community for those searching for a Judaism that was egalitarian, inclusive, spiritual. We also offer a welcoming home for interfaith couples and families, gays and lesbians.”
A hundred families now belong to the temple and more than 500 people are expected to arrive for the coming High Holidays services.
Also in Santiago, the Dr. Chaim Weizmann Hebrew Institute has seen sustained growth. In 2005 there were 265 children aged 2 to 5 in the preschool. Today the number is at 373, according to Sergio Herskovitz, the school principal.
Similar stories in the region abound. In Panama City, a decade ago there were barely any children at weekly activities at Kol Shearith Israel synagogue. Now nearly 60 young people participate in weekly events and the total budget of the community has tripled.