PORTO ALEGRE, capital of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; population: 1,416.363 (2004); estimated Jewish population: 9,000 (2004). After São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre has the third most important Jewish community in Brazil, with a solid institutional network and an active social and cultural life.
The Jewish community was established in Porto Alegre in the 1910s, when immigrants from Eastern Europe founded the local association União Israelita. In 1915, the first Jewish newspaper to appear in Brazil, Di Mentshhayt, written in Yiddish, was published in Porto Alegre. The Centro Israelita Porto-Alegrense (Jewish Center of Porto Alegre) was founded in 1917, while the Centro Hebraico Rio-Grandense (Jewish Center of Rio Grande do Sul, 1922) and Sociedade Beneficente das Damas Israelitas Sefaradis (Beneficent Society of Jewish Sephardic Women, 1931) were founded by Sephardi immigrants.
The pattern of Porto Alegre's Jewish community follows the general pattern established in the most important urban centers in Brazil: a well-organized institutional life; successful economic, social, and cultural integration; and a Jewish-Brazilian identity. The local community has created a school and several cultural, sport, and social welfare entities. Among them are Associação Israelita Damas de Caridade (1922), Cooperativa de Crédito Popular (1922, providing its 2,000 members with credit and banking services), Colégio Israelita Brasileiro (1922), Grêmio Esportivo Israelita (1929), Círculo Social Israelita (1930), Sociedade Beneficente de Socorros Mútuos Linath Hatzedek (1932), Sociedade Israelita Brasileira de Cultura e Beneficência – Sibra (1936), founded by German Jews who arrived during the 1930s, and the youth movements Yavne, Ha-Bonim Dror, Betar, Ha-Shomer ha-Za'ir and Chazit Ha-Noar.
Located in a region with considerable economic development and large ethnic minorities (Germans, Italians, Poles), the Jewish community of Porto Alegre flourished and developed its institutions. In 1941, the Jews had a radio program. A second one came into existence in 1968. After World War II, new institutions were created: Organização Sionista (1945), WIZO (1947), Naamat Pioneiras (1948), Clube Campestre (1958), Federação Israelita do Rio Grande do Sul (1961), and a Jewish sport club (inaugurated in 1966). After 1956, scores of refugees from Egypt and Hungary, as well as immigrants from Israel, joined the community.
In 1992, there were around 3,300 Jewish families living in Porto Alegre and 310 in other small towns located in the State of Rio Grande do Sul. In the 1920s most of the colonists from ICA colonies moved to Porto Alegre and also created small communities in the hinterland of Rio Grande do Sul: Santa Maria (1915), Pelotas (União Israelita Pelotense, 1920), Rio Grande (Sociedade Israelita Brasileira, 1920, many from Philipson), Passo Fundo (União Israelita Passo-Fundense, 1922), Erechim (Sociedade Cultural e Beneficente Israelita, 1934, with many colonists from Quatro Irmãos), and also Erebango, Cruz Alta, and Uruguaiana.
Moacyr *Scliar (1937– ) the most important Jewish-Brazilian writer, was born and lived Porto Alegre. He was the main literary voice of the Brazilian Jewish experience in the 20th century. Physician and member of the Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Academy of Literature), some of his books take place in the Jewish neighborhood of Bom Fim, where the author creates an atmosphere of fantastic realism. Some of his most famous books are A Guerra no Bom Fim ("The War in Bom Fim," 1972), Balada do Falso Messias ("Ballad of the False Messiah," 1976) and A Estranha Nação de Rafael Mendes ("The Strange Nation of Rafael Mendes," 1983).
Cintia Moscovich (1958– ), from Porto Alegre, is an important Jewish-Brazilian writer from the new generation and has published titles like O reino das cebolas ("The Kingdom of the Onions," 1996) and Duas Iguais – Manual de amores eequívocos assemelhados ("The Identical Two – Manual of Loves and Similar Mistakes," 1998). Carlos Scliar (1920–2001) was a distinguished artist, being one of the most important Brazilian engravers. The local community had also a soccer player idol in the 1950s: David Russowsky, the "Russinho" (1917–1958), who played for "Internacional" and was also a lawyer.
Instituto Cultural Judaico Marc Chagall (1985) is a very active Jewish-Brazilian cultural institution, promoting different kinds of activities. Marc Chagall has a Memoirs Department with a well-organized historical archive about Jewish immigrants in Rio Grande do Sul.
Antisemitism was a significant question in Porto Alegre during the 1990s due to the activity of local Editora Revisão, a publishing house that translated and edited some antisemitic titles such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; antisemitic works by Gustavo Barroso (a fascist leader in the 1930s), such as Brasil, colônia de banqueiros ("Brazil, a Colony of Bankers," first published in the 1930s), and Holocaust-denial books such as Holocausto judeu ou alemão? Nos bastidores da mentira do século ("Jewish or German Holocaust? The Framers of the Century's Lie," written by S.E. Castan, pseudonym of the editor Siegfried Ellwanger); and Quem escreveu o diário de Anne Frank? ("Who Wrote the Diary of Anne Frank?"). In 1989, when the books achieved commercial distribution and political repercussions, a group of Jews and other activists, including Afro-Brazilians, launched Movimento Popular Anti-Racismo – Mopar to respond to the diffusion of antisemitism. Editora Revisão participated in several book events in Brazil, and this provoked discussions between those who were in favor of "absolute" freedom of expression and those who denounced the racism and the antisemitism. After a legal battle of many years, the publisher S.E. Castan, owner of Revisão, was condemned for the crime of racism and antisemitism in 2004. It was the first Brazilian court conviction for antisemitism, establishing an important precedent in the matter.
In 2005, three young Jews were attacked in a bar in Porto Alegre by a skinhead group, in a rare episode of violent and open antisemitism in the country.
A. Brumer, Identidade em mudança. Pesquisa sociológica sobre os judeus do Rio Grande do Sul (1994); E. Nicolaiewsky, Israelitas no Rio Grande do Sul (1984); I. Gutfreind. A imigração judaica no Rio Grande do Sul. Da memória para a história (2004); J.A. Wainberg (ed.), 100 Anos de Amor. A imigração judaica no Rio Grande do Sul (2004); J.H. Lesser, Pawns of the Powerful. Jewish Immigration to Brazil 1904–1945 (1989); J.H. Lesser, Jewish Colonization in Rio Grande do Sul, 1904–1925 (1991); J.S. Halpern, Contribuição para a história da imprensa judaica no Rio Grande do Sul (1999); L. Milman (ed.), Ensaios Sobre o Anti-Semitismo Contemporâneo. Dos mitos e da crítica aos tribunais (2004).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.