Crisis-Hit Greek Jews Fear For Their Future

From the JTA

Patricia Alcalay, 24, has been unemployed since she finished her nursing degree in December 2010. Her father lost his job four months ago, a year shy of retirement.

Her older sister, who was studying abroad, meanwhile, found work in the Netherlands and is not coming back to Greece anytime soon.

Stories like these have become common among the Jewish community in Greece, which like the rest of the Greek population is struggling to stay afloat in a country engulfed in the fifth year of an economic crisis that shows no sign of abating.

Approximately 5,000 Jews live in Greece — about 3,500 in Athens, 1,000 in Thessaloniki and the rest scattered elsewhere — and community leaders say they are laboring to maintain Jewish institutions and deal with the additional heavy demands on welfare programs.

Some of the leaders fear a greater threat to the community’s future: an exodus of young, unemployed Jews leaving a country where they see little hope.

“It is a very difficult situation for us because of the financial crisis in Greece. It affects the Jewish community very heavily,” said Benjamin Albalas, the president of the Jewish Community of Athens, an association that provides funding for the city’s Jewish institutions. “We are supporting two synagogues, the school, the cemetery, a community center and a number of needy people that is growing all the time.”

As the need for community aid has increased, the funding to the communal institution has decreased sharply.

Much of its revenue comes from Jewish community-owned commercial and residential properties dating back before World War II, when some 78,000 Jews lived in Greece — many in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, a community that was almost wiped out entirely in the Holocaust.

By Gavin Rabinowitz

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