Special Report the Jews of Brazil
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Special Report the Jews of Brazil

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Even for the Jewish community there is something magical about Rio de Janeiro. As Zevi Ghivelder, executive director of the influential popular magazine, Manchete, owned by Bloch Editores, put it: “Brazil is the suburb of the world; you pass through London, Paris, Rome, but you come to Brazil.” And he quickly agreed that Rio is the “playground” of this suburb.

There is hardly a city in the world which can match the beauty of spectacular Rio: its beckoning, shiny, blue bays and calm ocean, its nearby mountains clothed in rich tropical vegetation and enhanced by the sun, and especially its beautiful beaches, beaches which not only affect the pace of the city, but even the life of organized Jewry.

It is said that the Jews of Soo Paulo, which is the business and industrial center of Brazil, with no beaches, are much better organized than their co-religionists in Rio, because they don’t have to compete with the beaches and holiday atmosphere of Rio.

Indeed, perhaps it is because of the nature of this fun-loving city that when Orthodox Jews established a yeshiva, they moved it to the scenic hills of Petropolis, the beautiful town near Rio. They did this because they wanted to avoid the distractions of the city.


One discerns a certain dynamism among the Orthodox Jews of Brazil. I was told that just before one High Holy Day season, a group of yeshiva students went to Brasilia, took the local phone book and literally telephoned every family whose name appeared to be Jewish and called on them to attend services. The community responded.

It takes sheer dynamism and determination to keep alive the kosher restaurant in the Bar Ilon School located at Rua Pompeu Loureiro 48, in Rio. The religious community is determined to offer a full-time kosher facility for the community and visiting tourists.

On Sundays, beginning at about 12 noon and lasting until 3 p.m. there is a buffet which brings together several hundred Jews in a social atmosphere. The building itself is composed of a school, a synagogue, several small prayer halls, club facilities for Bnei Akiva, the kosher dining room and restaurant, and even a bakery making piping hot challahs for the Sabbath.

The Orthodox community here was shocked by the sudden death of the Chief Rabbi of Rio, Rabbi Rachmil Blumenfeld. Wherever I went the grief was expressed by this community for Blumenfeld. Raised in Brazil, he was a “pillar of strength” for the Orthodox groups and especially for Beth Yaakov, commonly known as “Copacabana Synagogue.” In the past, many Orthodox Jews would send their children to the U.S. and to Israel to study. But now, they want to establish in Rio an even more young and active native-born Orthodox community.


This is a community that unites and puts its shoulder to the wheel to carry out successful events. “When the Jewish community does something, everyone turns out,” it is said.

Such was the case with the Rio Jewish community during the Israel Week Exhibition held at the new, luxury Rio Palace Hotel on Aveneida Atlantica, in Copacabana. The show, known as “Semane de Israel.” ran for five days and displayed hundreds of Israeli export items viewed by thousands of “Cariocas,” as the joie-de-vivre residents of Rio are fondly called.

Items ranged from irrigation systems to jewelry, to pottery, to religious goods and kosher foods. There was no admission to the Israel Week Exhibition which included entertainer Mati Caspi. Direct from Israel came two Israeli policewomen to direct traffic in fast-moving downtown Rio and the show was aided by El Al Israel Airlines and Varig Brazilian Airlines. Thousands of persons came each day to the Rio Palace whose three-storey mall of shops attached to the elegant hotel was utilized for the show.


My discussions in Brazil with Jewish leaders underscored one fact: there could be more communication between the North and South American Jewish communities: exchange of visits, tours. Ghivelder told me how the community would welcome delegations, journalists, visitors, tourists. It is easy to be isolated here, since Brazil, as noted, is “the suburb of the world.”

But whatever the previous misconceptions Americans have of Brazil, there is no doubt that Brazil in the next two decades will move up even higher as a giant among the nations of the world. In its headlong rush for industrialization, it has the people; the large urban areas; the land and the space (in food exports it is already second in the world only to the U.S.) the knew how (it is already considered a developing nuclear power and though it now imports 85 percent of its petroleum, it has pioneered in gasohol).

It would behoove American Jews to become better acquainted with their co-religionists, the Jews of Brazil, who are playing an important part in this ebullient nation.

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