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Queens Jews protest Venezuelan temple desecration

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In a city more than 2,000 miles from Queens, at a time when many borough residents were sleeping, in a synagogue many area residents have never seen, there was an attack at the end of January in Caracas, Venezuela, that has sent waves of concern throughout the borough’s Jewish community.

More than 50 people congregated at an event last Thursday evening at the Hillcrest Jewish Center in Fresh Meadows to protest the increase in anti−Semitic acts in Venezuela, including the attack during which vandals broke into Tiferet Israel, the country’s main Sephardic synagogue in Caracas, in the early morning hours of Jan. 31.

The individuals, 11 of whom have been arrested, desecrated Torah scrolls, spray−painted the walls with such messages as “Death to all,” and stole computer discs with personal information on Venezuela’s Jews, according to Associated Press reports.

“An attack of this nature is unheard of in the history of Venezuela,” said Isidor Aizenberg. rabbi emeritus of the Conservative Synagogue of Jamaica Estates, who lived and worked in the South American country in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

“I have friends there, and they feel very vulnerable. Many want to leave, but it’s difficult for them to do so. When you’re old and you have spent much of your life there, where do you go?”

Aizenberg, a rabbi in Jamaica Estates for 30 years until 2004, spoke during the event, sponsored by the Forest Hills−based Queens Jewish Community Council. A panel of community leaders, lawmakers and former Venezuelan residents addressed what they said is a rise in anti−Semitism in Venezuela, which they attributed in part to the anti−Israel policies of the country’s president, Hugo Chavez.

Jewish leaders have denounced Chavez’s move last month to expel the Israeli ambassador to protest the war in Gaza.

“I’ve written to Chavez, and I’ve demanded he stop the anti−Sem­itism,” said U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D−Bayside).

Ackerman issued stern words about Chavez, calling the leader “a no−good anti−Sem­ite.”

Hillcrest Jewish Center President Ted Weiss, Queensborough Community College President Eduardo Marti, QJCC President Warren Hecht, state Assemblymen Rory Lancman (D−Fresh Meadows) and Mark Weprin (D−Little Neck) and former Venezuelan residents Daniel Kaswan and Jose Kliksberg also spoke at the event.

Kaswan, a physician who moved from Venezuela to Manhattan in 1996, said he is especially concerned about the plight of the Jews in his home country because his parents and many friends still live there.

“My parents were astonished when the attack on the synagogue happened,” said Kaswan, who had been an active member of Caracas’ Jewish community. “We never envisioned something like this would happen, although there has been an increasing anti−Israeli rhetoric in Venezuela.

Kliksberg said it is especially upsetting that several of the attackers turned out to be policemen and one had been a security guard for Tiferet Israel’s rabbi.

“We’re asking for justice for a minority group that has been in Venezuela for 200 years,” he said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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