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FIU Jewish Museum presents LA ALEGRÍA DE VIVIR: A Moment in Venezuelan Jewish Life Through the Eyes of Silvia Cohen
Journeys and travels have shaped Silvia’s life, from her parents’ long journey from Europe to South America during World War II, as well as her own migration to the United States. After her own relocation experience, Silvia realized the difficulties her parents had faced, arriving in a new country with a completely different culture and language.
In this series, her parents are presented with others of the community enjoying life, meeting in their homes, and dressing up for dances, celebrations, weddings, and Carnival. Inspired by old photographs from the 1950’s and 1960’s, Silvia chose unique moments from her own family and friend’s stories to illustrate Venezuela’s vibrant Jewish community.
Jewish settlers from Curaçao arrived in Venezuela in 1824, established themselves in the city of Santa Ana de Coro. Unfortunately, in 1854, most of them were expelled back to Curaçao. In 1919, the Israelite Association of Venezuela was created to coalesce the country’s scattered Jewish community. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Jewish population expanded with arrivals from North Africa and Europe. By the 1950s, there were over 6,000 Jews in Venezuela, many who, like Silvia’s parents, had come fleeing the war in Europe. By 1970, there were over 15,000 Jews, most of them living in and around Caracas. Over 20,000 Jews lived there in the mid-1990s, but today less than 7,000 remain.
Two organizations provide services to Venezuelan Jews, the Asociación Israelita de Venezuela (Sephardic) and the Unión Israelita de Caracas (Azkenazi). Each offers their members assistance with religious, kashrut, cultural, and funerary observances. They have united, as few communities have done, in common objectives such as education with the Colegio Moral y Luces, Hebraica social and sports clubs, Yajad social aid, health, identification with Israel, and representation before government agencies in the Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela (CAIV). This joint collaboration represents a unique example within the Jewish Diaspora.