RIO DE JANEIRO, April 3 (JTA) — In a city where most people go to the beach on Saturday mornings, a new center has opened in an effort to connect the local Jewish community with its heritage.
The center, run by the Lubavitch movement, includes two synagogues — one with 400 seats and another for weekday services — a library and separate mikvahs for men and women.
The seven-story center also houses a large ballroom with a kosher kitchen for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, a youth center and a pre-school.
Local politicians joined Jewish officials for Sunday’s inauguration ceremony, held in Leblon, the city’s most upscale neighborhood.
Rio, with a Jewish population of 30,000, has synagogues in older neighborhoods, but many are unable to gather a minyan for Shabbat services.
The new center was designed for a Jewish population that has moved from poorer areas of the city to the Leblon district as members of the community grew wealthier.
For the past 10 years, Lubavitch activities were held in a two-story house in Leblon. But as time passed, it became evident that the house was too small to house gatherings — but there was no place to move to.
Help came from Rio Mayor Cesar Maia, who donated a piece of land, and the center was built with contributions from the community.
To show its gratitude for the mayor’s gesture, the community also collected funds to build a public library in a poor section of town.
The center will host its first simcha for cariocas — as Rio’s residents are known — when a wedding is held next week in its ballroom.