Leaving Venezuela


Sitting outside a Starbucks coffee shop in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., a small city north of Miami Beach, Paul Hariton recalled the dramatic night in 2002 when he and his wife decided to leave their native Venezuela.

Leftist leader Hugo Chavez had just returned to power after a failed coup, and the Haritons feared the political fallout.

“We thought he was gone already,” said Hariton, 56. “We came back from a big opposition demonstration in the city center where several people were shot, including one member of the community. A girl was shot in the head. She survived.”

The next day the Haritons were in Florida. Eleven years later they’re still there.

“For my kids, it was a great move,” Hariton said. “My oldest son is going to medical school. My daughter just graduated and is working at the bank. And my youngest son is 17 and is applying for university.”

Over the past decade, thousands of Venezuelan Jews have followed suit, driven abroad by rising crime rates and the growing anti-Semitism many attribute to Chavez’s harsh criticism of Israel and cozy alliance with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. About 25,000 Jews lived in Venezuela in the 1990s — a number that has shrunk to 9,000 today, according to CAIV, the umbrella group for Venezuelan Jewry.

“I can’t tell you if 10 years from now we’ll be half of what we are, but the trend at the moment is a decreasing one, which is very worrying for the community,” said Efraim Lapscher, CAIV’s vice president.

Many Jews in Venezuela are determined to stay. They have businesses, a sense of cultural belonging and an impressive array of Jewish institutions painstakingly built over decades. Yet uncertainty after the death of Chavez last month may send more overseas to join their friends and family living abroad, many of them in Florida.

Just three hours by plane from the Venezuelan capital Caracas, the Miami region has similar weather, Spanish is widely spoken and is home to a large Jewish community, making it a favorite among Venezuelan Jews looking for a fresh start.

Many of the newcomers have joined the Michael-Ann Russel Jewish Community Center in North Miami Beach, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Hebraica, the sprawling Jewish compound in Caracas. Though it lacks the Hebraica’s dramatic surroundings — notably its location at the foot of the lush Avila mountain — the tennis courts, pool, well-kept buildings and easygoing lifestyle are much the same.

“There is a lot more use of facilities, not just for sports,” said Ariel Bentata, a Venezuelan Jew and the JCC’s president. “It’s more of a gathering place now, and that’s a big change. This is something that Venezuelan Jews have brought from the Hebraica.”

Indeed, Caraqueno transplants are likely to bump into many familiar faces in these parts. Rabbi Pynchas Brener was chief rabbi of the main Ashkenazi synagogue of Caracas for 44 years until he retired here two years ago as he neared 80.

“I could have stayed on for another three years; I was offered that opportunity,” Brener said. “But I didn’t want to at this stage of the game, basically because of the tremendous personal insecurity [in Caracas]. And I have eight of my nine grandchildren living here. So that’s why I came.”

Florida may be the destination of choice for Venezuelan Jews, most of whom live in Caracas, but it is by no means the only one. Smaller communities of Venezuelan Jewish expats exist in Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala — Spanish-speaking countries with small but robust Jewish populations.

Others have resettled in Israel. According to the Jewish Agency for Israel, 1,290 Venezuelans have moved to the Jewish state since 1999, numbers that do not include the Venezuelan Jews who already were Israeli citizens before they moved. A Jewish official said the number of Jews in the latter category is “sizable.”

Some Venezuelan Jews have gone on to significant successes in their adopted countries.

Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz is working on a movie starring Rober De Niro and Gael Garcia Bernal. Michel Kreisel was a member of the special effects team that won an Academy Award for “Life of Pi.” Moses Naim, Venezuela’s former minister of development, is now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington and a respected columnist for Spain’s El Pais.

“Generally, more idealistic people or those with relatives came here,” said Maor Melul, 37, a computer engineer who moved to Israel from Caracas in January. “The people who have a lot of money go to Miami. And generally those who go to Panama and Costa Rica are waiting to go back to Venezuela if things improve.”

Melul fell in love with Tel Aviv over a previous extended stay. Most of his friends in Israel are from Brazil, Venezuela’s neighbor to the south, but if people mistake him for a Brazilian, he is quick to correct them.

“In my room I have an indigenous clay doll with the colors of the flag of Venezuela and the stars,” he said. “On my dining table I have a Venezuelan flag. And of course there’s the Venezuelan soccer team. I wore its T-shirt when I made aliyah. After you leave, you start showing your colors, showing you are Venezuelan.”

For the most part, Melul feels detached from the place he had called home for decades. Most of his family and friends either died or emigrated. Only occasionally does he feel nostalgic, like when he goes through old photo albums.

“I look at pictures of coconuts and the water and how I’d love to be there right now,” he said. “But I can’t.”

Hariton believes most Venezuelan Jews would not go back, even if things improved. They are settled in their new homes, he said, and think only sparingly of their country of birth.

“I miss what I had, which is not there anymore,” Hariton said. “The community we had and country we had is not there anymore.” 

Venezuela Jews unveil new main Sephardic synagogue


The Jewish community of Caracas officially dedicated the Venezuelan city's new main Sephardic synagogue, Tiferet Israel Este.

Hundreds gathered Sunday at the multimillion-dollar synagogue in the Las Palos Grandes neighborhood for the ceremony led by Isaac Cohen, the chief rabbi of the local Sephardic community.

“As Kohelet said, there is a time for everything,” Cohen told JTA last week. “[The new synagogue] shows that people seek religion in their lives, and we have freedom of religion here.”

Tiferet Israel Este offers an alternative to Tiferet Israel, the old main Sephardic synagogue located in a now dangerous part of town where few Jews remain. In 2009, armed vandals attacked Tiferet Israel, desecrating Torah scrolls and scrawling anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls.

The unveiling of the synagogue was postponed by a week due to the death of Hugo Chavez, the country's longtime president.

About 9,000 Jews live in Venezuela, down from 25,000 in the mid-1990s.

After lavish Chavez funeral, Maduro sworn in as interim president of Venezuela


Nicolas Maduro, the handpicked successor of the late Hugo Chavez, was sworn in as the interim president of Venezuela amid opposition calls that the choice was unconstitutional.

Maduro, the former foreign minister, took the oath of office on Friday night promising to uphold the legacy of his political patron.

“I take the sash of Chavez to complete his oath and continue his way, the revolution and forward movement of independence and socialism,” a solemn Maduro vowed.

Earlier in the day, the heads of 55 states attended Chavez's lavish funeral at the military academy in Caracas.

Henrique Capriles Radonski, the leader of the opposition, held a news conference calling Maduro's swearing-in unconstitutional. Radonski, who lost to Chavez by an 11-point margin in elections held last October, read aloud a passage from the constitution drafted by Chavez's party in 1999 that called for the speaker of the National Assembly, currently Diosdado Cabello, to fill the position.

“Nicolas, they did not elect you,” said Capriles, who identifies as Catholic and is the grandson of Holocaust survivors.  “The people have not voted for you, kid.”

The constitution calls for new elections within 30 days; no date has been set for a vote.

David Bittan and Efrain Lapscher, the leaders of CAIV, Venezuelan Jewry's umbrella group, said on Friday that their group's mission would not change regardless of the victor of the expected presidential race.

“In the future, we'll have elections and we can change governments or the same government will stay, but we will have the same issues,” Lapscher said. “We will try to give the best Jewish life possible and we will combat anti-Semitism if it comes from the government, their supporters or outside.”

During his 14 years in office, Chavez championed Venezuela's poor, setting up an elaborate welfare system with the country's vast oil wealth while haranguing the opposition. An avowed critic of what he called “U.S. imperialism,” he severed ties with Israel and formed alliances with countries such Cuba, Iran, Libya and Syria.

At Chavez's funeral, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kissed the coffin of the late leader, who once called him a “kindred spirit.” Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, often referred to as the last dictator of Europe, shed tears.

The ceremony's host made special mention of the presence of representatives of Palestine, which drew particular applause, and Bashar Assad's embattled government in Syria.

In a eulogy, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson described Chavez as a champion of the poor and called for better ties between the U.S. and Venezuela.

Maduro placed a gold sword — a replica of the one that belonged to 19th century liberator Simon Bolivar, one of Chavez's heroes — on the late president's coffin.

State-owned TV channels broadcast images from the funeral live under a banner that read “Chavez, forever.”

“It's just his body, just his body,” gushed an anchor. “Chavez lives on.”

Squatters take over Caracas synagogue building


A group of squatters forcefully entered a building that houses a synagogue, in a move that anti-government observers say was religiously motivated.

The squatters were peacefully dislodged Monday morning after negotiations with the police and community leaders.

A group of 20 homeless people, including children, broke into the three-story building before sunrise on Monday and occupied some of the vacant apartments on the second and third floors, saying they considered the building unused and would press for the building’s expropriation by the government so that it could be turned into apartments for the homeless.

Representatives of the Jewish community said that there was no damage to Bet Abraham, a synagogue that was established over 10 years ago on the building’s first floor. The building has been undergoing renovations for the last two years, according to reports.

“The action’s objective was not to disturb the normal activities of the synagogue and the protesters did not enter the religious grounds, nor did they act in a disrespectful manner,” said the Venezuelan Confederation of Israelite Associations in a statement.

The confederation said the squatters left the building peacefully after the intervention of the district’s mayor Jorge Rodriguez, who is a member of President Hugo Chavez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

While the confederation it does not believe the action was religiously motivated, anti-government observers pointed out that the squatter’s invasion attempt came a week after Catholic imagery was shot at in another provincial city.

“These people know exactly what they are doing even if they might not know what a synagogue really is,” wrote one anti-government blogger. “But they have heard the anti-Jewish talk of the regime, the anti-Catholic [rhetoric] of Chavez, [and] the unacceptable recomedation [sic] of the ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ on the Venezuelan national state radio no less.”

President Chavez has verbally sparred in the past with the Catholic hierarchy in Venezuela, which has been outspoken in denouncing what it describes as the erosion of democracy under Chavez.

New mall in Caracas provides a safe haven for Jews


Six teenagers sit laughing around barely touched platters of hamburgers and fries on a recent Friday afternoon, oblivious to the deli manager’s harried attempts to close out the cash register ahead of the rapidly declining sun.

One of the teens remembers to return a blue-and-white kipah the restaurant keeps on hand in case a customer forgets to bring his own.

“I’m leaving in exactly seven minutes,” the manager says politely but firmly. “Come back anytime after Shabbat.”

At a new mall in Caracas, where Cafe Hillel is among dozens of establishments catering to a primarily Jewish clientele, it’s an extraordinary scene.

The Galerias Sebucan mall, which opened late last year just blocks from a grand new Sephardic synagogue in a well-known Jewish neighborhood, has Jewish owners. Most, if not all, of the shop owners are Jewish. So are many of the patrons.

That has made the mall a place both where the diversity of Jewish Venezuelan culture is on vivid display and where Jews can feel safe in a city plagued by violent crime—and where Jews don’t always feel safe to appear identifiably Jewish.

But Coby Benzaquen, the owner of Cafe Hillel, said a key motivating factor behind opening the kosher deli was the desire to provide a safe, upscale environment for young Jews to hang out.

“The community didn’t have a place where families and young people could go and feel comfortable,” Benzaquen said.

For a community that has seen its numbers dwindle in the face of an economic crisis, rising crime, the stirrings of anti-Semitism and the strident anti-Zionism promoted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the opening of a mall catering to Jewish Venezuelans would seem to be bad business.

Benzaquen is undeterred by such pessimism.

“You can’t give up your quality of life because of fear,” he said. “The Jew is a fighter. He’s always moving forward.”

Families of all religious stripes pass through the compact, three-story commercial center.

On a given afternoon, young Orthodox families can be seen pushing strollers as they window shop and chase small boys with unshorn locks. Students from the local Jewish school, wearing navy blue sweat suits emblazoned with menorahs, stand around in clusters. Deeply tanned young women sporting Hamsa necklaces scroll through their iPhones and meet for coffee and crepes. This being Venezuela, many of them are scantily clad, showing off their surgical “enhancements.”

The Jewish community has fallen to about 10,000 from a peak of 20,000 just before Chavez came to power in 1999. Many Jews cite rising crime, politics and anti-Semitic rants from government media as reasons for leaving.

Meanwhile, despite historically high oil prices, Venezuela was among the few economies in Latin America to contract last year due to severe power shortages, strict foreign exchange controls and the ever-present threat of expropriation of private holdings by the government.

Benzaquen is the first to admit that opening a kosher establishment in a city that many Jews have abandoned and has become notoriously inhospitable to privately owned businesses is “a gamble.” But he says it’s not just about business.

“This isn’t really a business for us,” Benzaquen said, referring to himself and his partner, Mois Azerraf. “It’s more like a personal whim. We just really felt the need for it.”

Cafe Hillel, which has a huge mural of the Brooklyn Bridge and nearly a dozen flat-screen televisions mounted on the wall, offers American-style food such as burgers and sandwiches. It’s probably also the only place in Caracas where you can order a pastrami sandwich.

Benzaquen says the Galerias Sebucan mall is just one of two in Latin America that allows store owners to observe Shabbat and Jewish holidays. The other is in Buenos Aires, home to South America’s largest Jewish community.

“Imagine being closed on Saturday—that’s the busiest day of the week,” Benzaquen said.

At Cafe Hillel, Adriana Coriat stops in for a bite at the behest of her 17-year-old daughter. The mall, Coriat says, is a welcome addition to the “Jewish bubble” at Club Hebraica, which is home to the community’s school and also serves as a social and athletic club. Many Caracas Jews point to the club as a symbol of their community’s unity.

“It’s how we survive here, in our bubble,” she said. “Crime follows us everywhere.”

For her, the Jewish nature of the mall is less important than its convenient location.

“It’s close to the house and, more than anything, a safe place for kids. They can’t just go out in the streets,” Coriat said. “I drop my daughter off here at the door and I pick her up at the same spot.”

Even more so than in North America, malls are a cornerstone of the social landscape in Caracas. Here, malls also feature upscale bars, lounges and restaurants. The idea is that it’s safer to go out where club goers can bounce between night spots under one roof with secure indoor parking.

According to the government’s own recently released statistics, the official murder rate stands at 48 per 100,000, which is above the Latin American average. Independent observers say the murder rate actually is much higher, at 118 per 100,000, making Caracas among the most violent cities in the world.

With just a few hours left before sunset, Menachem Gancz peruses the Jewish history section of the bookstore at Galerias Sebucan, which prominently features books on Kabbalah, the Zohar and “The Jews.” The 25-year old Orthodox Torah teacher says that outside of the city’s more well-to-do sections, he likely would feel compelled to cover up his kipah.

At this mall, no such precaution is necessary.

“Look around you,” he said. “It’s all Jews.”

Israeli Official Describes Venezuelan Embassy Ouster


On Feb. 6, Shlomo Cohen, Israel’s ambassador in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital city, received an unwelcome and distressing phone call. The government of Venezuela was expelling all Israeli diplomats and staff — they had 72 hours to leave the country.

In a country whose government had become increasingly hostile to Israel, the call hardly came as a surprise. President Hugo Chávez was organizing an anti-Israel demonstration the very next day to denounce what he called Israel’s “Nazi-like atrocities” in Gaza. Pro-Arab sentiment in Caracas, also on the rise, was manifest everywhere, with TV images of Parliament members wearing kaffiyehs, Palestinian flags ubiquitously waved in the streets and Muslims praying in mosques. 

Danny Biran, Israel’s Head of Administration for North and South America, flew to Caracas to help close the Israeli Embassy. He provided The Jewish Journal with this account during a briefing in Los Angeles this week.

Venezuelan government rhetoric is not just anti-Israel. It often crosses the line into anti-Semitism, with frequent calls to demonstrate against Israel and its allies — the Jews. Additionally, Chávez is calling on Jews themselves to demonstrate against Israel and its offensive in Gaza. 

Against this backdrop, the local Jewish community has been struggling to understand the depth and breadth of this new anti-Semitic posture in a country that — until Chávez — had been nothing but welcoming. Temples recently have been subjected to violent anti-Semitic attacks, leaving ominous messages in their wake: “Damn Jews,” “Assassin Jews,” “Out of here, Jews.” Now, after the embassy’s inauguration 60 years ago, there will be no Israeli embassy, leaving Jews feeling powerless and stranded.

Closing an embassy is no minor task, Biran said, and proved a formidable one for diplomats more accustomed to building than dismantling them. All kinds of equipment had to be moved, classified materials handled, cars sold, kids pulled out of schools, relationships suspended. Yet the message was sharp and clear. And the clock was ticking.

Embassy staff embarked on closing the embassy at breakneck pace, simultaneously balancing a dizzying array of complicated logistics and the handling of frantic calls from the dismayed community. Careful not to create panic, yet understanding the need for straightforwardness, the message from the embassy was clear: “We will not leave you alone.” 

Amid the frenzy, another piece of bad news was delivered: Chávez now announced that he was cutting off all relations with Israel. Diplomats were now stripped of all immunity, thus deemed illegal aliens, with no protection whatsoever.

Rapidly assessing the gravity of the situation, Consul Biran called his colleagues in Buenos Aires, Panama, New York and Miami, urging them to come immediately to Caracas to help. As diplomats arrived within hours, Venezuelan authorities intercepted them at the airport. The government refused them entry. Officials escorted the Israelis to a room, where they were held for the next nine hours. No one in government returned phone calls. 

After nine hours, the diplomats were released from the airport. Venezuelan army commandos and three civilians escorted them to the embassy. They were allowed only three days in the country and would be followed everywhere they went, at their hotels, in their conversations, in all their movements. 

The sense of precariousness intensified. Without immunity or legal status, Venezuela was an increasingly insecure place. Commandos assigned to the diplomats were everywhere, taking pictures, interrogating all who entered the embassy. Numerous calls to government dignitaries went unreturned. And, atypically, this Jewish community had no connections in the government. Contingency plans began to take shape for the worst-case scenario. If necessary, Biran stated, “Everyone would be taken out of the country.”

On Feb. 22, amid tears and sorrow, the flag and sign of the Israeli Embassy in Caracas came down; the embassy was closed.

The situation in Caracas remains volatile. Consul Biran ascertained that the commandos assigned to oversee the closure of the embassy were receiving direct orders from Chávez and two high ranking officers, one of whom reportedly has close ties to Hezbollah. In addition, Chávez has been cultivating relationships with the Iranian government for years. There are now numerous weekly direct flights from Caracas to Tehran. Additionally, many reports solidly point to a strong Hezbollah presence. 

Expressing dismay and concern at the present state of affairs, Biran adds, “As a Jew, as an Israeli, as a civil servant [traveling the world for years], it is unbelievable to see a community in such an environment — harder than I had seen.” There is general concern that the combination of Chávez’s pro-Palestinian, pro-Iranian, pro-Arab support and his anti-Israel propaganda, are creating a propitious environment for terrorist attacks. 

Nonetheless, the Jewish community is not in a state of panic. Amid his anti-Israel propaganda, President Chávez sends frequent messages of support to the Jewish community, assuaging fears. Underscoring the unpredictable nature of his posture toward the community, he issued an order that matzah and kosher wine would not be available for Passover. Under pressure, he reversed the order.

“No one knows where this situation will lead,” Biran said. “The Jewish community would welcome outside shows of support, be it through missions or through connections with governments around the world.”

A Chilling Raid


 

None of the 1,500 children at a Jewish day school in Caracas will forget drop-off on the morning of Nov. 29. On that morning last week, 25 government investigators, some of them armed and hooded, intercepted busloads of kids and turned them away.

Pandemonium broke loose as confused parents attempted to leave the school through the narrow driveway. Other panicked parents, whose kids were already inside the school, tried desperately to gain access. A couple of dozen children were locked inside, the preschoolers in one room and the older children in another. Not knowing whether this was the unfolding of a hostage crisis, anguished parents pleaded for the return of their children. Over the next 30 to 60 minutes, the investigators allowed all the children out. They were unharmed.

Once everyone was evacuated, the investigators remained on the premises for three hours. Aside from the incident with the children, the government agents were courteous and respectful. School officials said the search teams took nothing and left the offices and classrooms undisturbed. Upon completing their operation, the detectives declared that the search of the Centro Social, Cultural y Deportivo Hebraica, was “unfruitful.”

The raid, it turns out, took place in connection with the murder of investigating prosecutor, Danilo Anderson, who was assassinated in his car by a remote bomb planted in his cellular phone. Anderson was in charge of several politically sensitive cases, namely the prosecution of key members of the opposition to President Hugo Chávez in the attempted coup of 2002.

The prosecutors had received a tip reporting the transfer of weapons and explosives from Club Magnum, a shooting club, to the Hebraica. Club Magnum was not searched.

Community leaders and international Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee immediately denounced the raid and expressed outrage. In a press release to South American papers, the Simon Wiesenthal Center described the incident as an “anti-Semitic act, more like a pogrom than a judicial proceeding,” and demanded immediate suspension of Venezuela’s incorporation into Mercosur, the South American Trade Association.

Local indignation was just as strong. In a stirring letter to El Nacional, one of Venezuela’s main newspapers, Pinchas Brenner, chief rabbi of Venezuela, denounced the raid describing the method as an “astute economy of intimidation [since] there is not a single Jewish family in Caracas that was not affected. Many of us have children in the school, grandchildren, great-grandchildren — or friends. An attack on the school is the most effective way of jolting the entire Jewish population.”

Even though local papers were abuzz with incensed commentary by Jewish groups, official community statements were careful to omit the accusation, “anti-Semitism.”

Why such an apolitical Jewish cultural and community center would be targeted remains a mystery to the community. Since its establishment in Venezuela, the Jewish community has adopted a stance of “live and let live” and has deliberately kept a low profile in political issues. Daniel Slimak, president of the CAIV (Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela), an umbrella organization that includes major Jewish organizations, said, “Our institutional communities do not intervene nor have ever intervened in political activities.”

However, the Jewish community’s discretion has proven ineffective in the face of independent, non-government sponsored, opinion pieces disseminated in the media in the days preceding the raid. Comparisons of the style of Anderson’s assassination to Israeli targeted killings abounded. In the most well-known example, Israelis assassinated Hamas bombmaker Yayha Ayyash in 1996 using a booby-trapped cell-phone.

Government channels unwittingly contributed by airing these commentaries as examples of irresponsible reporting. The commentary resulted in a press release by the Israeli Embassy in Caracas, which television stations aired, condemning the murder of Anderson and unequivocally stating it had no connection whatsoever to it.

“This has been one of the most difficult weeks for the Jewish community in Venezuela,” Slimak asserted, “not only because of the children, the fear and the raid, but because everyone is wondering what the real reason behind the raid was.”

Most community leaders agreed that, aside from isolated anti-Semitic incidents, there was no anti-Semitism in Venezuela. Slimak is eager to point out that “neither the president nor any high-ranking member of his administration has ever uttered a single word against the community.”

Furthermore, according to Slimak, in times of increased terror alert, the community has always sought and obtained government protection — such as additional security during High Holidays.

Additionally, “Vice President José Vicente Rangel has always been responsive and a good friend to the community,” he said.

Reports on anti-Semitism, however, present a bleaker picture. In its Anti-Semitism Worldwide Report of 2002/3 on Venezuela, the Stephen Roth Institute of Tel Aviv reports, “a great deal of virulent anti-Semitic propaganda, including classical manifestations of anti-Semitism.”

According to the report, after the unsuccessful coup against Chávez, unfounded theories circulated in the independent media about involvement of the CIA and the Israeli Mossad. Additionally, the report provides examples of anti-Semitic statements issued by important groups such as the left-wing MVR (Movimiento Quinta República) accusing Pedro Carmona, a prominent member of the opposition, during his brief interim presidency, of “having intended to conduct a ‘Sharon operation’ [in order to do] what the Jews are doing in Palestine.”

The Venezuelan-Jewish community in Miami, which keeps close contact with its sister community in Caracas, supports the view that anti-Semitism is at work. An unnamed community leader and activist, concurs with the Wiesenthal Center in that, “the raid sent a strong message to the Jewish community.”

Further, she points out that general opinion among the community here is that “[the raid] planted in the minds of the people that the Jews are destabilizing Venezuela.” Recognizing that the Israeli Embassy in Caracas should not intervene, efforts are being made from Miami to bring the matter before the United Nations.

At home, however, the outlook is more optimistic, at least officially. According to Brenner’s letter, Rangel assured that “the raid was in response to a decision by one of judges on the case, and that the executive would never initiate any such aggression against the Jewish community.”

In the words of the rabbi: “His [Rangel’s] word was comforting, but no sedative because the most sacred institution of the Jewish community has been violated.”

“This is the first stain’ on the government’s record toward us,” Slimak said. “We feel optimistic and we want to believe that what occurred was an isolated incident.”