Jewish community in Zimbabwe faces repatriation

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Local embassies in Harare are drawing up emergency missions to airlift their people from volatile Zimbabwe as political violence intensifies.

On Thursday it was reported that an Israel group called Jewish Agency is one such formation that wants to rescue the remaining Jews from the violence. It is estimated that there are close to 400 Jewish community still resident in the southern African country still.

Details are said to be closely guarded secret, at least for now.

There is no Israeli embassy in Harare and there are no direct flights to Tel Aviv, but the two countries do have diplomatic ties.

A costly operation

Media reports say this weekend a rabbi will fly to Britain from South-Africa to raise funds to support the operation, the cost of which could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the spiritual leader of African communities
outside South Africa is quoted as saying some of the older members of the Zimbabwe community were reluctant to leave, even though conditions continue to deteriorate.

“It is important to understand that this is the remnant of a once very
strong community that numbered 7,500 people in its prime. Those who chose to stay feel loyal to their staff who depend on them, afraid of the struggle to adjust in a new place and really don’t want to leave.”

The Jewish community

There are three synagogues in Zimbabwe, two in Harare and one in Bulawayo. Harare also has one remaining Jewish school. Of its 200 pupils, just five are Jewish – the children of Israeli emissaries working there.

Zimbabweans have been facing an ongoing campaign of violence by the
governing party, ZANU-PF, led by incumbent leader Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since the country was given independence 28 years ago.

Mugabe is to face a second round of elections on June 27 after he
failed conclusively to win power at the end of March.

Only a few people left

Many young Jews have left over the past eight years. So far, only six of the older ones have begun making plans to leave, it is said. However, a prominent member of the community in Harare says said that despite the food shortage, people “feel safe”.

“People become accustomed to eating very little, so they get used to hunger. In terms of personal security, they feel protected. So I can understand why they are not in a rush to leave.”

But he noted that the economy “had not been at such a low point before”.

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