Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Shalom, Rio de Janeiro: A Jewish Culture Guide

If you’re visiting Brazil for the World Cup, check out some of these Jewish sites while you’re there.

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: June 10th, 2014 in Culture » Society » News

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Rio de Janeiro


The first Jewish presence in Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Brazil, was Conversos who arrived betwixt the 16th and 18th centuries, fleeing the Inquisition. In 1822, Brazil became an independent empire. Two years later, the country’s first constitution outlined freedom of religion, and thus, more Jews began settling in the region. During the mid 19th century, Moroccan Jews arrived in Brazil, drawn by the prospects of the rubber boom. Many settled in Rio, which was a one of the most important harbors in the country. União Shel Guemilut Ḥassadim (which still exists in the present day) was the first communal organization for the fledgling community.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, a number of organizations emerged during the latter portion of the 19th, including the Alliance Israélite Universelle (1867), Sociedade União Israelita do Brazil (1873), and Sociedade Israelita do Rito Português (Jewish Society of the Portuguese Rite).

By the turn of the century, there were two synagogues in Rio, one formed by Western European immigrants, and the other by North African immigrants. After 1900, Rio experienced another wave of immigration. In 1910, Centro Israelita do Rio de Janeiro was formed with the primary objective to build a synagogue and cemetery. By the end of World War I, the Jewish community of Rio was estimated to number 2,000, with its cultural and social epicenter located in the Praça Onze region of the city.

Sinogogo de Rio

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, several social institutions were formed in the city including: Sociedade Beneficente Israelita e Amparo aos Imigrantes (Hilfs-Ferein-Relief, 1920), Sociedade das Damas Israelitas (Jewish Women’s Association–Froein Farein, 1923), Lar da Criança Israelita (Jewish Children’s Home, 1923), Policlínica Israelita (1937). During World War II, Rio’s Jewish community was active in the war effort, and formed both Comitê Hebreu-Brasileiro para as Vítimas da Guerra (Jewish Brazilian Committee for War Victims) and the Comitê de Socorro aos Israelitas Vítimas de Guerra (Aid Committee for Jewish War Victims). In 1947, Federação Israelita do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (Jewish Federation of the State of Rio de Janeiro-FIERJ) was formed.

Today, the community of Rio de Janeiro is the second largest Jewish community in Brazil, next to São Paulo. According to FIERJ, there are approximately 25,000 to 30,000 Jews residing in the capital. The community is extremely active with dozens of institutions and organizations affiliated with FIERJ including: 30 synagogues, five schools, four other non-formal educational institutions and youth movements, Zionist women’s organizations, beneficent and social assistance entities, sport and cultural associations, reports the Jewish Virtual Library. Some specific institutions present in the city are Hebraica, B’nai B’rith, Organização Sionista, Sociedade Beneficente Israelita Hospital Albert Einstein, and Clube Israelita Brasileiro. If you wish to keep kosher, kosher food is readily available throughout the city, as well as several kosher restaurants.

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