Venezuela Jews Watch Warily at Tumult Over Death of Strongman Hugo Chavez

Fear Stalks Community Amid Outpouring for Populist


By JTA

Published March 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Students at the Ma’or HaTorah yeshiva in Caracas knew something was afoot Tuesday afternoon when bodyguards driving bullet-proof vehicles started showing up unexpectedly at the gate, whisking teenagers from wealthy families to the safety of their homes.

“After the second and third came, we realized this was serious,” Aron Misadon, a 16-year-old student at the school, told JTA on Wednesday. “At that point they closed the school and we all ran home.”

That something was the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who had been gravely ill for months and had recently returned from months-long treatment in Cuba. The announcement sent many in Caracas into panic mode, fearing that the death of this larger-than-life figure – alternately loved or reviled by millions in his country – might lead to chaos in the streets.

Stores were shuttered, meetings were canceled and Venezuelans braced themselves. As the government announced a seven-day national mourning period, Jewish schools and the Jewish community center in Caracas all closed. The only activity in town seemed to be at the military academy, where Chavez’s coffin lay in state. He is to be buried on Friday.

The scheduled opening next Sunday of a new Sephardic synagogue was likely to be postponed. The new shul, a multimillion dollar edifice, had been built to replace an older one located in a part of town that had become unsafe. Under Chavez’s rule, Caracas has acquired one of the world’s highest murder rates, and violent crime is an omnipresent threat.

In the early hours after Chavez’s death, the fear was of the unknown. Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro’s accusation that Venezuela’s enemies had “inculcated” Chavez with his cancer, as unnamed foes had done to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, sent shivers down the spines of many Venezuelan Jews.

“We are very worried that his followers might decide to ‘avenge’ his death,” said Sammy Eppel, a local journalist who is Jewish.

But two days after his death, an eerie calm had taken hold. Driving down the four-lane highway connecting Simon Bolivar International Airport with downtown Caracas, David Bittan noted how quiet things were.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.