Greece´s Jewish community struggles to stay afloat (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Revital Blumenfeld 03/16/12)
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Personal letters were sent to members of the Jewish community in
Athens in recent months asking them to pay annual community dues.
This brash appeal for funds is just one of the previously unthinkable
measures taken by Greece´s Jewish community in an effort to survive.
"This never happened in the past," said Ilana Demetrio, a Jewish
resident of Athens. "The practice used to be that each person donated
time and money based on his own resources and abilities. But
recently, a practice of sending letters specifying concrete amounts
has taken root. This happened because of our economic situation."
Jewish community leaders are familiar with each family´s economic
situation, so the letters ask for different dues from each recipient.
Even so, many members will have trouble paying. But the community has
Greece´s two-year-old economic crisis has wrought havoc with the
country´s middle class, and thereby rattled the foundations upon
which Jewish communal institutions stand. A once-prosperous Jewish
community of some 2,000 people has become indigent. And many fear
that harder times are yet to come.
The crisis has numerous causes, but the most important factor behind
the Jewish community´s distress is the loss of real estate income.
Greece´s Jewish community, which in its heyday numbered some 70,000
people in 38 towns, purchased many real estate assets, and some were
later donated to the community´s coffers by wealthy Greek Jews. After
World War II, just 5,000 Jews were left in the country, mainly in
Athens and Salonika, but revenue from real estate assets remained the
community´s main source of income.
"Rental income has decreased by 30 to 50 percent, and we have
apartments and stores that are completely vacant," said Larry Sefiha,
deputy head of the Salonika Jewish community. "People are simply
leaving because of the economic crisis.
"The problem is that we are in a period when everyone needs help:
People have lost their jobs, and they can´t take care of their
parents or children," he added. "We have doubled the amount of
assistance we give to Athens, but it still isn´t enough. The Jewish
community is fighting to survive, and we are busy trying to meet our
responsibility of preserving Jewish heritage in Greece."
Jewish community leaders in both Athens and Salonika tried to solve
their budget shortfalls by cutting back on services to members, but
this proved impossible. Recently, therefore, they finally
acknowledged that they can´t solve the problem on their own and
turned to overseas Jewry for help: Two weeks ago, the Jewish Agency,
the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews launched a fund-
raising campaign for Greek Jewry.
"Many young people are interested in immigration to Israel," noted
Nelly Kapon, 53, of Salonika. "Five years ago, that word wasn´t even
in their lexicon. I think it´s good for them ... But on the other
hand, it would spell the end of the community here - because they are
its future." (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 03/16/12)
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