Natan Sharansky speaks at a Jewish Agency gathering. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
By Aaron Kalman
Most Greek Jewish communal institutions said to be on brink of collapse
February 27, 2012
The Jewish Agency is sending $1 million in emergency aid to the Jewish community of Greece to help it grapple with the crippling financial crisis there.
The majority of Greece’s Jewish communal institutions are on the verge of closure, the agency said.
Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky convened the organization’s leadership to approve the financial aid on Sunday night.
The agency is also to launch a fundraising campaign for the Greek Jewish community. And it will send Hebrew teachers to the local school and summer camps in Greece within the coming months, in order to preserve Hebrew instruction in the community.
“The funds will enable communal institutions to continue their operations, including programs to strengthen the community’s ties with Israel and the development of unique aliya tracks for those members of the community who wish to immigrate to Israel,” the agency said in a statement. “The aid package will be funded by the Jewish Agency and by its partners, Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal (UIA) and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.”
Some 5,000 Jews live in Greece, of whom some 3,500 reside in Athens and an additional 1,000 in Thessaloniki. The Jewish community operates synagogues, a Jewish school, a museum, and a soup kitchen.
The agency added: “According to community leaders, the majority of Jewish communal institutions in the country are on the verge of closure due to the financial crisis gripping the country, which has led to a dramatic decline in donations, the collapse of income from communal assets, and a series of new taxes imposed on the communal institutions themselves.
“Many members of the Jewish community are now unemployed and falling below the poverty line. Some 70 elderly members of the community require financial support to pay for basic necessities such as food and shelter.”
Said Sharansky: “The Jews of Greece are known for their tremendous generosity toward their needy brethren in Israel and around the Jewish world. They have contributed some $20 million to Keren Hayesod-UIA over the past decade, a huge per capita sum that has helped support the disadvantaged in Israel and elsewhere. Today, this wonderful community needs us, and it would be unthinkable for us not to come to their aid in their time of need.”
The Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which began emergency aid programs in Greece several months ago, also issued a statement. “We welcome the decision by the Jewish Agency to join the group of global partners, led by JDC, that have already been working for months to help the Greek Jewish Community in its time of need. Their generous donation builds upon the support provided by the Lauder Foundation, Leichtag Family Foundation, and the $330,000 initial gift for welfare and school scholarships made by JDC to the Athens Jewish Community,” said JDC CEO Steven Schwager.