— by Joshua Berkman
The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, comprised of leaders and representatives of Jewish communities around the world and meeting this week in Jerusalem, voted to grant emergency aid to the Jewish community of Greece in order to address immediate needs in the wake of the crippling financial crisis in the country.
Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky convened an urgent meeting of the organization’s leadership, which decided to provide some $1 million over two years to help the Greek Jewish community weather one of the worst crises it has faced in living memory. 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 aliyah (immigration) tracks for those members of the community who wish to immigrate to Israel.
More after the jump.
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.
The Jewish Agency leadership, including the leaders of Keren Hayesod-UIA and the Jewish Federations of North America, also announced a special fundraising campaign for the Jews of Greece and the Jewish Agency decided to dispatch Hebrew teachers to local schools and summer camps in Greece, within the coming months, in order to preserve Hebrew instruction in the community.
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. 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.
Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky said,
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.