A polemic Shabbat service in Rio de Janeiro will honor Polish Jewish women trafficked to Brazil to work as prostitutes.
The “polacas,” or Poles, of the 19th and 20th centuries will be remembered Friday by a group of Conservative Jewish women from the Congregacao Judaica do Brasil, who will lead the service in a concert room.
Taken to Brazil from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the polacas are part of a rarely recalled Brazilian history. They were discriminated against by the Jewish community, so they founded their own synagogue and cemetery.
“These women had a major concern to preserve the Jewish traditions,” said Rabbi Nilton Bonder of the 440-member Congregacao Judaica do Brasil. “Despite all the difficulties, they also created a service for poor and orphan children.
“It is a sensitive subject. There has always been fear that it could be used against the Jews by being added to existing stereotypes. I know I’ll have to hear a lot about this ceremony in which we unite the sacred and the profane.”
The concert room is located in an area that is still frequented by prostitutes.