Tanks and costumes tell the story of the arrival of the Jews in Recife and the founding of the first Jewish congregation in the hemisphere, before being expelled to New York
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (JTA) - The Rio Carnival Parade commemorated the journey of the European Jewish refugees who established the first New World synagogue, and finally the first congregation in North America.
A group of 80 members of the Jewish community joined more than 3,000 artists from Portela samba school on Monday night as they marched on the 800-meter-long street, telling the story of the Jews expelled from Portugal , their temporary religious freedom and prosperity in a Brazilian region under Dutch rule, and their second expulsion leading them to found the Shearith Israel synagogue in New York.
"For us, it is very important that someone appreciates Jewish presence and influence in Brazilian history. It's a sign of recognition, "said Rio Jewish Federation President Herry Rosenberg before the parade. Rosenberg had closely followed the preparations for the parade for the federation, which served as a consultant for the show.
Colorful floats and plush costumes traced the arrival of the Jews to Recife, where they discovered the landscape of northeastern Brazil, including crops and typical animals such as sugar cane, crabs and goats. . Striking allegories depicted local architecture and atmosphere, including Kahal Zur Israel, the first synagogue established in the Americas, founded by newly arrived Jews.
The theme of Portela School was inspired by the book Caminhos cruzados: A vitoriosa saga dos judeus do Recife - da Espanha in fundação de Nova York (Crossroads: The victorious saga of Jewish immigrants from Recife - from Spain to the founding of New York) reported the Rio Times online.
"The intention was to show how the past can enlighten us on the present and the future. There is a strong message against xenophobia and for peace among peoples, "said Fabio Pavao, a director of Portela.
The Jewish expulsion from Brazil was portrayed by a huge ship and pirates, who attacked the group en route to New Amsterdam, the city they helped found and which was later renamed New York. Skyscrapers, Broadway billboards and a replica of the Statue of Liberty were on the last float of the parade.
In 1624, the Dutch - tolerant of Jewish immigration and different religious practices - seized a part of northeastern Brazil.
In 1637, the Jews built the Kahal Zur synagogue in Recife, which was closed by the Portuguese when the Dutch were expelled in 1654. It was reopened in 2002 and is now the oldest existing synagogue in the Americas, housing a Jewish cultural center and a museum.
"This rescue of the history of the Dutch period in Brazil reminds us of a vision of respect for differences in the midst of an era of discrimination and intolerance, and brings us to an ongoing reflection on the issue," said Sonia. Sette, president of the Jewish federation of Pernambuco, at JTA in the weeks preceding the parade.
More than a million tourists from all over the world come to attend the Rio Carnival at street parties called "blocos" or at Sambadrome, where 26 samba schools dazzle around 60,000 spectators. The live television broadcast is watched by some 208 million Brazilians and reaches some 2 billion television viewers worldwide.
Carnival is Brazil's most popular festival and one of the world's biggest multi-day celebrations. Following a lunar calendar, it was held this year from 9 to 14 February. The celebration ends at noon on Ash Wednesday. Easter Sunday comes 40 days later.
In 2008, a carnival float depicting dead Holocaust victims was removed from the Rio parade at the request of the Jewish federation, citing Brazilian law banning Nazi propaganda and racism.
In 2003, the Jewish Cultural Center of Sao Paulo was ransacked for sponsoring the representation of the Mangueira samba school on the Ten Commandments for a cost of one million dollars. Some Jewish activists criticized the center because it was willing to spend so much money, arguing that the money could be better spent to help Brazilian Jewish institutions in financial difficulty.
Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world - nearly 130 million - and some 120,000 Jews.