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Lubavitch Center Opens In Rio De Janeiro
By Shirley Nigri

The success of Lubavitch in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was crowned by the opening of the city’s largest Jewish Center. The newly built Lubavitch Center is a seven-floor structure a block away from Leblon Beach, the most exclusive area in the city. This is a remarkable achievement, one the community did not even dare dream of a few years ago.

The Jewish Center includes two synagogues; a main synagogue with 400 seats, to be used for Shabbos and Yomim Tovim, and the other for weekdays. There are separate modern mikvos for men, women, and utensils. Plans to add a swimming pool are in the making, as well as a multilingual library.

The inaugural ceremony this Sunday was graced with the presence of politicians, the vice mayor, ministers of the government, and Jewish personalities. Rabbis and leaders of other Jewish communities came to the event honoring the sponsors of the luxurious project.

The opening of the Jewish Center symbolizes a new era in the city known for its carnivals, not for its Judaism. The building is a milestone in the history of Jewish life in Rio de Janeiro, and it is the first synagogue and Jewish Center located in the area where wealthy Jews live.

The center was designed to meet all of the needs of the community. To that end, it includes a large ballroom with a kosher kitchen for celebrations such as weddings and bar mitzvos, a youth center for videos, lectures, and conferences, and a Talmud Torah pre-school.

The modern style of the Jewish Center, with its brown marble facade and wood and white stone interior, is an invitation for the young generation to come and participate. In a city where most people prefer to go to the beach Saturday morning, it has to be attractive for the carioca (person living in or born in Rio) to want to change his habit and to come to the center instead.

There are 30,000 Jews in Rio, and some synagogues in the old neighborhoods don’t even have a minyan for Shabbos. In recent years, the trend has been movement away from the less well-to-do neighborhoods to the wealthy areas near the beach — and the Jews did not bring the synagogues with them.

Shluchim Rabbi Yehoshua and Chanie Goldmand were sent to Rio by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1987. In the past 10 years, the Lubavitch activities took place in a two-floor house in Leblon, with 200 people gathering on Shabbos evening. The house was getting too small, but there was no place they could move to. Two years ago, land was donated to Lubavitch by Mayor Cesar Maia, and Rabbi Goldman started to dream about opening a comprehensive center that would satisfy the needs of the Jews in every way possible.

Brazil is in an economic slump. Nevertheless, the center was built from scratch by Technion Engenharia with money collected from the local community. In gratitude for the expensive land grant by the mayor, the Jewish community built a public library in the favela (slum).

Although most of the participants in the activities of the center are not yet religious, people come to classes, prayers, Shabbatons, and parties, they give money for charity and send their children to pre-school. This success is all in the merit of the work done by five couples, shluchim of the Rebbe, who make Beit Lubavitch a place with a warm and familiar atmosphere. It is a house with a soul, where everyone feels comfortable to visit and be personally greeted by the rabbi and his wife.

For the first time in his life, the carioca will have the opportunity to enter a synagogue built by this generation, not by “the old generation,” with all of its unfortunate and erroneous connotations. Father and sons are participating in the construction and will keep coming for the services. For all the various activities, the young people, as well as the children, will be willing to come and learn and pray.

Here singles can meet, new families will be created, and will be invited to return for activities again and again. A place like this will help the growth of Jewish life in Rio and fight assimilation. Classes will be held on a variety of topics, teaching about the depth of Judaism, and many will find it in their hearts to take their first steps towards teshuva.

From now on, we will be hearing more about Judaism in Rio. Any Jewish tourist coming to the city of the carnival should know that we now also have a lively Jewish Center.



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