'People used to steal money, today they steal food’
From a relatively stable country, Venezuela has turned into a place where life is simply unbearable; with only 2,000 Jewish families left and empty shelves in the stores, the future looks much brighter in Israel. ‘There is no personal safety on the streets there and no basic civilian services,’ says new immigrant Natasha Benshimol.
From a relatively stable country, Venezuela has turned into a place where life is simply unbearable. The entire local Jewish community has been shaken in the past few years, and according to Benshimol, the situation just keeps getting worse every year.
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“There has been an unbearable deterioration,” she says. “There is no personal safety on the streets, people steal food, and those who have a little money have nothing to do with it because the shelves are empty and there are no basic civilian services. There were times when I needed medications, I had the money to pay for them, but the pharmacies were empty. It’s a very difficult day-to-day life.”
Benshimol says Jewish life was pretty active and there were no particular problems on the local street. “There were occasional statements, mainly by (former President Hugo) Chavez, but in general there was no problem walking on the street with a skullcap. There was security opposite the synagogue we used to celebrate and prayed in, and there were no unusual incidents.”
‘I realized I had no future’
According to Benshimol, many Jews have left the country in recent years. Only 2,000 families are left, trying to survive the difficult situation.
After completing her studies in the field of education, she realized she had no future in the country. “I got married, I had a child and I saw there were no good professional options and that the situation wasn’t going to get better.
“The decision to come to Israel wasn’t easy,” she says, “and it was largely done for my son’s future, but also for me. I’m young and I want to develop professionally and personally.”
These days, she is marking 10 months since making aliyah. Together with her husband, who isn’t Jewish and plans to undergo a conversion process, she is advancing in her Hebrew studies.
Did you know anything about Israel before making aliyah?
“Luckily, part of my family immigrated to Israel before me, so I had a relatively soft landing and they’ve been very helpful. We all live close to each other in Be’er Sheva, and although I have the language barrier and the entire process isn’t easy, I think this is the best decision I have made in my life.”
Helping Jews in distress
Benshimol immigrated to Israel as part of the activity of the of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ). According to its president, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, “The Fellowship has been working independently for four years now to help thousands of Jews from 26 countries, who have been suffering from financial, security and anti-Semitic distress.
“We began working independently following the crisis and the war that broke out in Ukraine, and since then we have expanded our activities to other countries where Jews live in risk, such as France, Venezuela and even Arab states.
“We focus on helping Jews in a medium and low socioeconomic status, who receive a generous aid and support envelope allowing them to get through the difficulties and obstacles involved in moving to a new country and successfully integrating into it.
“We are unequivocally committed to having new Jew in the world who wishes to immigrate to Israel but is prevented from doing so due to financial or social problems.”