A Special New Congregation in Brazil

By Rufina Bernardetti Silva Mausenbaum

Most Brazilian Anousim -- Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism and managed to flee Portugal during and after the Inquisition -- established themselves in the Northeast of Brazil, where they secretly practiced Judaism. In spite of not being accepted by normative Judaism, their descendants are growing and determined, and one group has even built its own synagogue.

Maguen Abraham is a very small and very modest white house with windows and doors painted blue, displaying a golden star on its external façade. During the recent, unforgettable inauguration day, Chazan Isaac Essoudry, a Jew from Morocco who has supported the cause of the Marranos for over 20 years, presided.

The community consists of descendents of the Marranos who get together to study and celebrate Jewish holidays and Shabbat. It feels like a miracle that 40 Marranos, mostly farm laborers, living in a place that is almost invisible on the map, many of them without running water and electricity in their houses, were able to gather the little resources they have to build a synagogue and return to their tradition.

Besides the hard work of the community, there are several people who are giving their support and are very important in establishing the synagogue. Ricardo Trigueiro, a lawyer from Recife, Brazil, dedicates three days a month to visit the community, passing on his knowledge of Torah and Talmud. Luciano Oliveira, a young doctor from Campina Grande, Brazil, will spend his vacation performing Brit Milah for all of the congregation’s male Anousim who are not yet circumcised.

There is also João Medeiros, a retired engineer who is a sort of a "father figure" whom everybody consults. His story contains many interesting chapters, and details can be found in his book Nos Passos do Retorno (In the Steps of Return).

There are several other volunteers involved, as well as members of the Brazilian Jewish and Anousim communities.

No public or private organization contributed to the edification of the Maguen Abraham congregation. The Anousim/Marranos from the city of Brejo da Madre de Deus, under the leadership of Benedito Bezerra de Souza, did everything themselves, driven by their faith and their hearts, with their hard earned money and strong hands.

There is still a lot of work ahead. The community is adamant that money will not be accepted. For those wanting to assist this amazing community, here is a list of their needs:

-religious books, especially the chumashim and siddurim in Portuguese (available at www.sefer.com.br)

- CD's (Piyutim and songs in Ladino and Hebrew) and DVD's (documentaries on Jewish history, Jewish personalities, Israel, etc.)

- Kippot and tallitot

These Brazilian Anousim have built their own synagogue. They need our (non-monetary) help. Please be generous in your support. For further information, please contact me at rufina@netactive.co.za.