Global Jewish Reflections | In Venezuela, Overcoming Obstacles, Just as the Passover Story Teaches

For Venezuelan Jewish educator Raquel Markus-Finckler, Passover is a chance to connect her community's journey to the ancient story of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt.

By Raquel Markus-Finckler - Brief Kohn Creative Center Coordinator; Caracas, Venezuela | March 30, 2021

Raquel (bottom row, second from left) is a passionate leader in Venezuela's Jewish community.

Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the spiritual wisdom of rabbis, Jewish educators, and others from around the JDC world.

In addition to the exodus from Egypt and the journey from slavery to freedom, Jews worldwide celebrate our birth as a nation each Passover. Thanks to Moses and his leadership, we arrived at Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments and the oral Torah, which years later became the written Torah.

Yes, it was on Mount Sinai more than 3,500 years ago that we were born as one Jewish people. Beyond any blood ties as descendants of our biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, we live by the same ethical and moral code and share a common history.

Raquel (second row, far left) poses with other Latin American participants of JDC’s Kaplan Leadership Initiative.

That sense of belonging to one people is a fundamental part of the work I develop in my capacity as the head of the Brief Kohn Creative Center at the Hebraica JCC in Caracas, Venezuela — one of the institutions here that JDC helps to support. Through the programming I coordinate for adults and the elderly, I am committed to keeping alive the Venezuelan Jewish community’s link to Israel and its connection to its culture, traditions, holidays and more.

To work with art and culture is to work with the most spiritual, sublime, and intimate parts of human life. That’s something that transmits a very special energy and unique force to me, inspiring me to create, invent, and imagine new ways to build and strengthen my bonds with members of my community.

The Venezuelan Jewish community is defined by its resilience, unity, and commitment to overcoming obstacles. Our communal institutions have successfully adapted to meet the challenges we’ve suffered year after year, which leads to a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience held by our professionals and volunteers. We’ve had to push ourselves to grow, learn, and recover. In the process, we’ve learned to be flexible, supportive, and collaborative.

We focus on sustainability, survival, and our shared goal of strengthening our community. In addition, we’re 100 percent open and willing to share our knowledge with other Jewish institutions and communities, indeed with anyone who can learn from us.

The Kaplan Leadership Initiative brings together Jewish communal professionals from Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Latin America.

I know how important this process can be because I’m no stranger to learning from global Jewish communities, through my experience participating in JDC’s DIRECTORES Kaplan Fellows @LEATID program for Jewish communal professionals in Latin America. I joined Kaplan because I wanted to expand my personal and professional horizons and deepen my  Jewish identity. I also wanted to gain new knowledge, leverage my strengths, work on my weaknesses, and collect meaningful experiences.

These goals were achieved 100 percent and surpassed my highest hopes. The most valuable thing was the personal bonds I formed with other participants — wonderful people who opened their doors to me and made me feel part of a team of professionals highly committed to their communities. Through them, I experienced affection, empathy, support, and mutual understanding. They are treasures for which I am deeply grateful to JDC and Kaplan.

I joined Kaplan to help secure the long-term future of the Venezuelan Jewish community, even though this is an exercise in divination and hope in equal measure. In the medium-term, I’d like to think that our community will continue to count on its Jewish communal institutions (and the people and partners, like JDC, who help them run) to guarantee they can continue living their Jewish life in a protective, safe, supportive, and friendly context.

 Passover teaches us that each human being has within themselves the potential to overcome difficult situations.

Passover teaches us that each human being has within themselves the potential to overcome difficult situations and emerge victorious and even stronger. Years ago, we faced oppression at the hands of the Egyptians, who were superior in numbers and resources. But despite the fact that the deck seemed stacked against us, we finally achieved the freedom we desired. That sense of liberation is our inheritance, and it’s still part of the Jewish people’s communal DNA.

We in Venezuela are a community that has shrunk to a quarter of its peak population, but we’ve learned a lot and understand perfectly how to ensure our continuity. We are a resilient community, first and foremost, and this fundamental truth will allow us to endure for many years to come

Raquel Markus-Finckler is the coordinator of the Brief Kohn Creative Center and the Adult Department of the JDC-supported Hebraica JCC in Caracas, Venezuela, a position she’s held since 2016.

She began her career as a Jewish communal professional as a journalist and the editor of Nuevo Mundo Israelita, the weekly newspaper of the Venezuelan Jewish community. She went on to work for the Unión Israelita de Caracas, the Ashkenazi Community, the Venezuelan Committee of Yad Vashem, the Keren Hayesod of Venezuela, the Hebrew Fraternity B’nai B’rith of Venezuela, and Espacio Anna Frank, before joining the Hebraica JCC team.

Raquel is also an alumna of JDC’s DIRECTORES Kaplan Fellows @LEATID program for Jewish communal professionals in Latin America.

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