Jewish Tours

Buenos Aires, Argentina


by Alden Oreck

Contemporary Brazil

Today, Brazil's rich cultural life includes several Jewish publications as well as a weekly Jewish television program, Mosaico. Author Moacyr Scliar has been published worldwide. Museums exhibit Jewish history and art and efforts to preserve Brazil's Jewish history are underway. The Center for Jewish Studies of the University of Sao Paulo, the Federal and State Universities in Rio de Janeiro and the Marc Chagall Institute in Porto Alegre sponsor lectures, conferences and academic courses of Jewish interest. Jewish and Israeli film festivals are common in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Special commemorative and cultural events are held in conjunction with Yom Hashoah and Yom Hatzmaut. Within Brazil's Jewish community are several Zionist organizations, youth groups, adult groups, and social clubs, including B'nai Brith, Hadassah International, Pioneer Women, the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Like many other countries, Brazil's religious observance encompass a wide spectrum, from liberal to orthodox with both strong Sephardi and Ashkenazi influences. Chabad-Lubavich has grown considerably in recent years with schools and synagogues in several major cities.

Politically, Jews have continued to play an important role. In 1994, Jaime Lerner was elected head of Parana, a major industrial state, becoming Brazil's first Jewish governor. In 1998, Dr. Eva Alterman Bay, a distinguished professor, became the first Jewish woman to serve in Brazil's Senate. Jews have also served in the Cabinet.

Professionally, Jews have made a tremendous impact on the Brazilian economy. Jewish families own Brazil's two largest publishing and jewelry companies, the sixth largest bank and are among the executives of several other large corporations.

While Brazil's total population exceeds 160 million people, the Jewish population has stabilized at approximately 150,000. More than 8,000 Brazilian Jews have moved to Israel since 1948. There are more than 40 active synagogues, several kosher supermarkets and a number of kosher restaurants. The Confederacao Israelita do Brasil (CONIB), founded in 1951, is the central body representing the 12 federations (states) of Brazil, and serves as an umbrella organization for more than 200 associations involved in Zionist activity, Jewish education, culture and charity.

Brazil's Jewish community has been on high alert since the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community headquarters in nearby Buenos Aires, Argentina, but has suffered only isolated anti-Semitic attacks such as harassment, threats and vandalism. Intermarriage is actually the greatest threat to Brazilian Jewry. Experts say the rate is even higher than in the United States. Brazil's slumping economy poses another challenge for the Jewish community.

Sao Paulo is home to 75,000 Jews, approximately half of Brazil's Jewish population. Located on Rua Antonio Carlos 653 is the Congragacio Israelita Paulista. This Ashkenazi synagogue is the largest on the continent with 2,000 family members (600-700 regularly attend Friday night services). The primary Sephardic synagogues are Ohel Yaakov and Beit Yaakov. At Rua Hungria 1000 is the 28,000-member Jewish club called A Hebracia. It resembles a self-contained city, complete with swimming pools, movie theaters, ballroom, synagogue, bank, restaurants, art gallery, library and more.

A tiny hasidic synagogue still functions in the old Jewish neighborhood called Bom Retiro ("Good Retreat") is in northern Sao Paulo, but most of the Jews have moved to other parts of the city. There are four orthodox schools and four secular Jewish schools. Approximately 3,000 students attend the Educacio Hebraico Brasileiro Renscenca at Rua Prates 790. Sao Paulo Jews are especially proud of their support of the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, one of the best in all South America. The Casa da Cultura Judaica, the Jewish cultural house is another popular place that organizes debates, folk dancing and other activities.

In 2001, the synagogue in Recife, the first shul ever built in the Americas, was reopened, 347 years after it was closed by Portuguese colonial rule. After two years of excavation and restoration, the synagogue will house a Jewish cultural center and host a few religious ceremonies. The synagogue had not been used since the mid-17th century when the Portuguese defeated the Dutch at Recife and expelled the estimated 1,200 Jews and banned Judaism.

The Jewish musuem in Rio de Janiero documents the history of Jews in Brazil and gives insight into the culture of the city's Jewish community. The area around Rua Alfandega is the center of Rio's old Jewish neighborhood. The Congregation of Grande Templo Israelita is located at Rue Tenente Possolo 8.

In August 2004, the mayor of Sao Paulo declared her city a sister city with Tel Aviv. Mayor Marta Suplicy said the new status would strengthen ties between both Brazilians and Israelis. Suplicy, who recently married a Jew, added that the new status would be a kickoff for urban, cultural, scientific, tourist and economic programs.


Sources: Encyclopedia Judaica
Eban, Abba. Heritage: Civilization and the Jews. NY: Summit Books, 1984.
Tigay, Alan M. (ed.). The Jewish Traveler. Jason Aronson, Inc. 1994.
Beker, Dr. Avi. (ed.) Jewish Communities of the World. Lerner Publication Co. 1998.
Jewish Daily Forward
Zaidner, Michael (ed.). Jewish Travel Guide 2000. Vallentine Mitchell & Co. 2000
Jewish Telegraphic Agency, (August 17, 2004)
Reuters, (December 4, 2001).


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