RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) – Brazil has set aside a day to honor Jewish immigrants to the country.
Brazilian Vice President Jose Alencar signed a measure setting March 18 as Jewish Immigration Day. The date coincides with the re-inauguration date in 2002 of the Brazilian synagogue Kahal Zur Israel, the oldest synagogue in the Americas.
"It was not easy to choose a date among many that represent the influence and the contribution of the Jewish community to the development of our country," said Marcelo Itagiba, the Jewish congressman who had proposed the bill.
Alencar signed the measure on Dec. 17 and then lit Chanukah candles with the local Jewish community, flanked by Reform Rabbi Sergio Margulies and Conservative Rabbi Michel Schlesinger. President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva was out of the country attending the United Nations climate conference in Denmark.
The ceremony in Brasilia was attended by several Jewish officials, including Israeli Ambassador Giora Becher and Israel’s Honorary Consul in Rio de Janeiro Osias Wurman.
Founded in 1636, Kahal Zur Israel was built in Recife during a short Dutch rule in the northeastern corner of Brazil. It was the very first Jewish synagogue established in the New World. Built in 1732, the Mikve Israel-Emanuel synagogue in Curaçao is the oldest synagogue in the Americas still in use.
Brazil has some 120,000 Jews, the second largest Jewish population in Latin America after Argentina.