Weiler Reports That South American Jews Face Many Serious Problems

Of the 750,000 Jews in South America, it is estimated that there are 475,000 in Argentina, 30,000 in Chile and 50,000 in Uruguay, three countries in which the Jewish communities are facing a breakdown of communal services unless financial help is sent in from the outside, Jack D. Weiler, chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee. reported today. Weiler and Samuel Haber, JDC executive vice-chairman, visited these three countries last April.

“Of the three countries, the Jews in Argentina are in the most desperate situation.” Weiler said Argentina “is in the throes of runaway inflation and political chaos. The government under the leadership of President Peron struggles for its existence from day to day. There has been an upsurge of anti-Semitism, fueled by the Arabs and financed by vast some of petrodollars. The Jewish community is on the verge of bankruptcy. Cooperatives, which in the past were able to finance much of the community’s programs from their profits went bankrupt and deprived the institutions of this vital source of funds. Reserves quickly melted away.”

A meeting of Jewish organizations called by the AMIA (Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina) in Buenos Aires early in August heard reports of possible closing by the Jewish hospital, the Burzaco Home for the Aged, and the home for children. Jewish schools are already functioning on a limited basis. Teachers haven’t been paid and many have gone on strike, Weiler reported.

More than 35 representatives of over a dozen organizations agreed on the need to work as an organized community, to pool their resources and for the first time, to organize a united fund-raising campaign. In the meantime, the AMIA sent an urgent appeal to the JDC for funds to enable the community to continue functioning until the united campaign can provide sufficient financing. Weiler stated.

JDC, together with the Jewish Agency has sent substantial sums to enable the schools to remain open. Since 1972 JDC alone has provided over $900,000 for the maintenance of the Jewish schools. It also provided limited sums for the old-age home and the children’s home.

SITUATION IN CHILE

In Chile, the political situation has been stabilized but inflation is almost as widespread as in Argentina. In 1974 the rate was 275 percent. In 1975, thus far, it has gone up another 125 percent, Adding to Chile’s economic problem was the sharp drop in the price of copper, the country’s main natural resource, while the price of oil, which Chile must import, tripled, Weiler reported.

There were about 35,000 Jews in Chile when Salvadore Allende was elected President in 1970, “About 6000 emigrated, mostly middle class, affluent Jews, those who contributed generously to the Jewish school system, the home for the aged and the children’s home.” Weiler said. “With this source of income cut off, the community faced increasing deficits and was forced to appeal to the JDC for funds to keep the institutions open, Anti-Semitism is not a problem in Chile. The new government sent official greetings to the Jewish community on Yom Kippur in 1974. Relations with Israel, which took a turn for the worse under Allende, have improved since the military junta assumed power.”

PROBLEMS IN URUGUAY

In Uruguay, inflation and unemployment are rampant. Jewish poverty is a serious problem; many of the Jewish poor subsist on incomes of $5 to $10 a week. The local Jewish welfare organization helps the most needy with “pensions” of about $3,50 to $5,00 a week. However, there is a substantial middle class among the estimated 50,000 Jews and they are able to cope more easily with the economic situation. While there has been little movement of Jews out of Uruguay a significant number of young people have gone to Israel and other countries.

“The Arabs have made serious inroads in Uruguay, once pro-Israel and friendly to the Jews.” Weiler observed. “The press. radio and TV are now mostly anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. However, the Jewish community has thus far been able to blunt the major thrust of Arab propaganda. Although there is still some anti-Semitism in the military, which virtually controls the government, manifestations against minorities are forbidden so the Uruguayan Jews enjoy a measure of tranquility.”

The Jewish community faces a substantial deficit. All four schools are in financial difficulty and face the possibility of closing. JDC provided grants to enable the three schools and a youth center to continue functioning.

NEXT ‘FIRE’ FOR JDC BRIGADE

Weiler said he and Haber “were deeply impressed that, despite the serious problems facing them, the Jewish communities exhibited great vitality. We were impressed by their determination to keep their school systems and their communal services going. Wherever we went we were warmly welcomed. The South American Jews were delighted and heartened to find Jews elsewhere concerned about them.”

However, Weiler added, “the continuing deterioration of political and economic conditions in South America bear close watching. There is a real danger that South America may become the area of a new rescue operation, the next ‘fire’ for the JDC brigade to put out. We will watch the situation very carefully and we will help, of course.”

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