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December 17, 2020 10:26 am

With Coronavirus Hitting Hard, Brazil’s Jews Look to Israel as a Model

avatar by Israel Hayom / JNS.org

The Estaiada Bridge in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – With Brazil being one of the worst-hit nations in the coronavirus pandemic, the Jewish community had to find ways to cope with the new reality.

Leaders said that even as they follow closely what has been unfolding in Israel, they have also had to reinvent themselves.

“This was also our way of coping with the new fundraising reality,” Jewish Confederation of Brazil President and World Jewish Congress Vice President Fernando Lottenberg told Israel Hayom, recounting that many of the country’s Jews have died from the disease.

Lottenberg, who has a PhD in international public law, has described the impact of the virus on the community as “super dramatic.”

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“During normal times, it’s hard to maintain contact, but now people keep approaching me and asking whether they can lend a helping hand to the community. Perhaps next year, we will be able to congregate in our synagogues once again and hold the normal meetings, but I hope that we won’t forget the positive impact that has been imposed on us due to the pandemic,” he said.

He also noted that the Jewish-built hospital in São Paulo has played an important role in highlighting the community’s contribution to public health.

Rabbi Ezra Dayan, who oversees kashrut supervision in Brazil, said he has been doing his work through Zoom for the past five months.

“The biggest challenge is to make sure the kashrut system does not collapse and thank God it hasn’t. We supervise hundreds of establishments, and now online supervision is just a fact of life. It’s amazing how we can do all this from São Paulo, considering that Brazil is the size of a continent,” he said.

“We closed the synagogues and the schools started working from home and preparing for the lockdown psychologically. The sense of community helps strengthen us in such uncertain times,” he added.

He said that looking at how Israel has coped with the pandemic has helped the Jewish community in its own struggle.

“Many members of our community have a strong Zionist fervor and have friends and family in Israel, or spent some time studying there,” he said. “So as soon as the crisis started, the Jewish community began to take its cues from Israel by adopting the various social-distancing measures, while the local authorities here were slow to react.”

He said that “there is a great deal of interest in what happens in Israel, and we feel that both sides are close, through the Jewish Agency’s aid, but also in our hearts. We have to enjoy the advantages of community and make them even stronger, especially in this protracted crisis that has ups and downs.”

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