The Jewish community in Brazil is the second most important in Latin America, behind Argentina and in front of Mexico, with 120 thousand Jews representing 0.06% of the total population.
Brazilian Jews play an active role in politics, sports, academia, commerce and industry, and in general they are well integrated into all spheres of Brazilian life. The majority of Brazilian Jews live in the State of São Paulo, but there are also important communities in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco and Paraná.
Brazilian Jews generally enjoy comfort, security and prosperity in a country characterized by the harmonious coexistence of diverse ethnic groups.
The main body of representation for the Brazilian Jewish community is the CONIB (Confederación Israelita de Brasil) affiliated to the World Jewish Congress.
The Jewish community as we know it today is the result of immigration that began in the nineteenth century and intensified in the twentieth century, reaching its peak between 1926 and 1942 when more than 50 thousand Jews entered Brazil. However, it is possible to identify the Jewish presence in Brazil since the arrival of the caravels of Pedro Alvares Cabral, in 1500, in which there were already “new Christians”.
Many Jews who escaped from the Inquisition went to Brazil, many as converts (by obligation) who continued to practice their Jewish faith in secret. When, around that time, agriculture began to be practiced in Brazil, the Jewish communities became involved in the first sugar plantations.
By 1645, there were 1500 Jews in the region. It was an organized community, with a Torah, a tzedakah fund and an executive committee.
In the 19th century, Moroccan Jews arrived in the Amazon and settled in Belém, a port city, Manaus and in the cities of the tributaries of the Amazon River. For the then capital of the Empire and after 1822, of the Republic, Rio de Janeiro, came the Jews of Alsace - Lorraine, Ashkenazi, and also some Sephardic Jews. In the 20th century, in the cities of Recife and Salvador, in the Northeast region, Ashkenazi communities were formed, with Jews from Eastern Europe.
In the south, either in the colonies of Baron Hirsch, in Porto Alegre and in Curitiba, and also in the main cities, such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, communities with Jews come from Russia, Bessarábia and Poland.
In the 1930s, it was the Germans who came, mainly to Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Jewish immigration continued, mainly through negotiations on a case-by-case basis, but not in an organized way through assistance entities. About 17,500 Jews entered the country between 1933 and 1939, but many refugees from Europe occupied by Nazi Germany had the approval and had as their destination the extermination in the Holocaust. In that period, there were diplomats who saved Jews, such as Ambassador Souza Dantas.
At the end of the 1950s, the Hungarians and the Egyptians arrived, who settled mostly in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In the 1970s, a wave of Lebanese Jews came mainly from Sao Paulo, then the undisputed economic center of the country.
Brazil has the ninth largest Jewish community in the world and the fourth at the continental level, with around 107,329 people in 2010, according to the National Census, similar to the Jewish Confederation of Brazil (CONIB) estimates that there are more than 120,000 Jews in Brazil. By 2015, the Jewish population had been reduced to 94,500 members, mainly due to the low birth rates of the community, the aging of the Jewish population and the process of secularization of the youngest who leave the bonds with the community.
The Jews are concentrated mainly in the south and southeast regions. The two most important communities in Brazil are in the cities of São Paulo, with 44 thousand people, and Rio de Janeiro, with 22 thousand. In the southern region, the city of Porto Alegre has a community of 7,000 Jews. The northern region deserves its importance because of its longevity. The community of Manaus has 1,200 members, and the oldest Jewish community in Brazil, in Belém do Pará, has 1,300 members. In the Northeast, the community of Recife has 1,300 members.
There has been a constant flow of Aliyah since the founding of the nation in 1948. Between 1948 and 2010, 11,586 Brazilian Jews migrated to Israel.
The Brazilian community is characterized by being a federation, for which the Jews in each state have their own organizations. The central body that represents all federations and communities is the Jewish Confederation of Brazil (CONIB), founded in 1951. There are approximately two hundred associations in the country aimed at promoting Zionist activity, Jewish education, culture, and charity.
All major international Zionist organizations are represented in Brazil.
The Israelite Albert Einstein Hospital, in Sao Paulo, is one of the strongest Jewish institutions in Brazil. Built by donations of traditional Jewish families in 1955, it is considered one of the best hospital in Latin America.
Jews lead an open religious life in Brazil and cases of anti-Semitism are rarely reported in the country. In the main urban centers there are schools, associations and synagogues where Brazilian Jews can practice and transmit the Jewish culture and traditions. Some Jewish scholars say that the only threat facing Judaism in Brazil is the relatively high frequency of mixed marriages, which in 2002 was estimated at 60%.
The centerpieces of Jewish life in Brazil are Hebrew: multifaceted Jewish sports clubs, which combine the functions of a center of the Jewish community and that of a country club. Hebraica Sao Paulo is the largest Jewish organization in Brazil, with 18,000 members. Its activities include sports competitions, theater, youth movements, religious services, music and dance festivals - even a day school and a kosher restaurant operate inside Hebraica.
Hebraica del Rio, although less large and struggling to modernize its facilities, remains an epicenter of Jewish life in the city. It hosts the famous Hava Netze Bemachol dance festival and Macca football matches.
Most of the Jewish community in Brazil identifies itself as a Zionist.
Most synagogues are conservative or reformist. In recent years, the Chabad movement has made inroads in Sao Paulo, establishing several synagogues, several Mikvaot and a kindergarten.
The Paulista Israeli Congregation (in Portuguese: Congregação Israelita Paulista) is located in São Paulo, Brazil. It is the largest synagogue in Latin America, serving more than 1500 people. It was founded in 1936 by a group of refugees from Nazi Germany, as a reformist synagogue, but also has links with the conservative movement.
Kosher food is readily available and there are also a large number of kosher restaurants.
Jewish education is organized by the National Institute of Education and Culture, and each state has its own committee. Sao Paulo has four orthodox schools and four traditional schools. There are several Jewish schools in Rio de Janeiro, including the 500-student Bar-Ilan school, which also has a kosher dining room and a synagogue.
The University of Sao Paulo offers Jewish studies.
The youth movements of Hashomer Hatzair, B'nai Akiva, Chazit Hanoar, Netzach and Habonim Dror are active in Brazil. There are sports clubs affiliated with Hebraica in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro that provide recreation and cultural resources.
The first Jewish newspaper published in idyll in Brazil was Di Menscheit, in 1915 in Porto Alegre, and the communities in several cities maintained an intense press, theater and cultural activity in general.
In São Paulo, Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro the Jews were concentrated in defined neighborhoods: Buen Retiro, Bonfim and Plaza Once, respectively, which has its chroniclers and writers, such as Eliezer Levin, Samuel Malamud and Moacyr Scliar (the latter being the most important expression literary Jewish in the country).
Brazil today has Jewish newspapers and magazines, and a Jewish television channel called Mosaic.
There are Jewish newspapers in Portuguese, including Tribune Judaica, Morasha and Shalom.
In the city of Recife, you can visit the historic Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue, the first synagogue in America and take a guided tour of the Judaic Archives of Pernambuco.
In Rio de Janeiro, there are several places of interest such as the ARI synagogue in Botafogo, the Itzhak Rabin Park, inaugurated by Lea, his wife, with privileged views of Botafogo Beach, the Lapa District, the Hebraica Club, the Jewish museum and the Eliezer School.
In San Pablo, you can visit the Hebraica Club, the Unibes Cultural Center, the current Jewish Quarter, the Old Jewish Quarter, the Kehilat Israel Synagogue, (the oldest in the city) and the Judaica Immigration Memorial, among others.
In the city of Curitiba, you can visit the Holocaust Museum.
Brazil and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1949. Israel established its embassy in Brazil in 1955, and Brazil did the same in 1958.
The decisive role of the Brazilian Oswaldo Aranha in the Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations that approved the plan of partition of Palestine (1947), allowing the creation of the State of Israel, is still remembered in Israel. Since the 1940s, Brazil has supported the creation of two States, opposing the occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel and encouraging the parties to seek a negotiated solution that will lead the two States, Israel and Palestine.
In recent years, high-level bilateral visits have multiplied. In 2009, President Shimon Peres visited Brazil. In 2010, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited Israel, the first official visit by a Brazilian Head of State to the country. Vice President Michel Temer visited Israel in 2013, on the occasion of the commemoration of the 90th anniversary of President Shimon Peres.
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