Greek Jews suffer in financial crisis

By Alexandra Kassimi, February 23, 2012
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Protesters shout anti-austerity slogans outside the Greek Parliament during a demonstration in central Athens

Protesters shout anti-austerity slogans outside the Greek Parliament during a demonstration in central Athens

Being a Jew in Greece already has its difficulties.

One faces prejudice on a regular basis, and any reference to the Jewish community as a whole usually involves conspiracy theories about how Jews are responsible for every evil or great event happening in the world.

The financial crisis just added another problem to the list. Soaring taxes and rocketing unemployment has hit the country's 7,500-strong Jewish community as hard as other Greek citizens.

Members of the Jewish community in Athens are used to helping each other out, and their institutions rely heavily on their donations. So dropping contributions have meant that standard community services are being starved of cash.

Benjamin Albala, president of the Jewish Community of Athens, says: "Funerals, weddings and other such simchot have been reduced since our members ask to pay less for these services."

Donations and the payment of membership fees to synagogues, burial societies and other community institutions have fallen by 50 per cent - and they are still falling.

"There are many members who refuse to pay their annual subscription, which is meant to support religious, spiritual and educational practices of the community," says Rabbi Izaak Mizan.

Meanwhile, the number of members who cannot make ends meet as a result of the crisis keeps on rising, and many are turning to ask for help from their synagogues and other community bodies.

The main reason for the tanking incomes of Athens community members is that many rely for business on the property market, which like elsewhere in Europe, has come crashing down. Rents have tumbled along with property prices. "Tenants ask for a 30 per cent reduction in rent and many leave, breaking the contracts, since their business has gone bankrupt," says Mr Albala.

The extreme levels of unemployment among young people is also a source of huge anxiety to the community. "The community has created a list of unemployed young people and we are trying to help them find jobs," says Mr Albala.

The official unemployment rate in Greece is about 20 per cent, but actual unemployment is thought to be much higher.

Meanwhile, as the government struggles to pass the structural reforms that Europe's politicians require in order to release the latest multi-billion bailout, the Greek far-right appears to be making inroads into mainstream politics.

Two members of the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) have resigned and are about to run in the upcoming elections under the banner of the poll-leading New Democracy Party. Adonis Georgiadis and Makis Voridis decided to resign from LAOS when asked by their party not to support the austerity bill.

The two voted in favour of the package of reforms and few days later they announced their move. In the past they have both made antisemitic statements.

Last updated: 2:05pm, June 14 2012