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Jewish Culture Festival

Up to this year, the Festival of Jewish Culture has already taken place seventeen times, five of which were in Recife Antigo.

Jewish Culture Festival

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 05/01/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

The 1st Festival of Jewish Culture, an initiative by the Israeli Federation of Pernambuco, was held in November 1991 at the Israelite Centre of Pernambuco (CIP) located in the Torre neighbourhood in Recife. The place was decorated, dozens of tables and chairs were arranged, tents were set up, and the party started after 7pm. At the entrance, each family would get a ceramic mug with the CIP emblem to drink draft beer that was distributed free of charge.

The delicious meals were made and donated by the Jewish community in Recife, and the students of the Escola Colégio Israelita de Pernambuco Moysés Chvarts [Moysés Chvarts Israelite College of Pernambuco] – a preschool and fundamental institution that operates from the CIP facilities – presented the folkloric dances. In addition to the delicacies, songs, dances and art exhibitions, the 1st Festival also brought in comedian Berta Loran, who presented a comedic spectacle.

At the end of the party, the sweet pies that remained intact were auctioned off among those present, and whoever made the best offer could take the delicacy home. Quite frequently it was the very person who had donated the dish. The money collected from the sale of tickets and traditional foods was intended for the payment of the Moyses Chvarts Israelite College of Pernambuco teachers’ thirteenth salaries.

The Festival took place in the Centre for over ten years. In November 2003, however, there was a major change: the 13th Festival of the Jewish Culture became a popular mega event, and from then on it began to be included in the Recife City Council’s official calendar.

Instead of the traditional space in the Torre district, the party was transferred to the Praça Artur Oscar – known as ‘Arsenal Square’ – located in Recife Antigo in the Recife neighbourhood, where several tents and a large stage were set up. From there, the Malakoff Tower and, a few metres away, the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue (or Congregation of the Rock of Israel) – the first synagogue in the Americas – can be appreciated.

It is worth mentioning that this synagogue represents one of the most important milestones of the Jewish presence in Colonial Brazil. Built during the period of the Dutch occupation in Pernambuco in the early 17th century, the synagogue is located in a public street that was formerly called Bockestraet and also Rua dos Judeus [Jewish Street], and was the first official temple of the Jews who inhabited the Americas. Next to the synagogue, there were two Jewish schools: Talmud Torah and Etz Hayim.

27 thousand inhabitants lived in an area of one thousand square metres, one of the highest population densities known. To attend this population, Count Maurice of Nassau (1630-1654) built a wooden bridge. The building was called the Mauritius of Nassau Bridge and functioned as a link between today’s Avenida Marquês de Olinda and 1º de Março Street in the Santo Antônio neighbourhood.

An expressive part of the population that inhabited the first urban centres of the area – called Freguesia de São Frei Pedro Gonçalves at the time – was represented by Jews or young Christians who came to Colonial Brazil in search of freedom of religious expression, fleeing from the persecution and the extermination that the Spanish and Portuguese inflicted on them. During the time of Dutch presence in Pernambuco, it was in that small and densely populated place that the Hebrews could profess their religion and keep their traditions alive.

After the expulsion of the Dutch, ‘Jewish Street’ became Rua da Cruz [Cross Street]. Many years later, the name changed to the current one: Rua do Bom Jesus [Good Jesus Street]. Each year, through the ancient cobblestones of those streets where so many Jews lived, more than fifteen thousand people circulate, including people from Pernambuco and tourists, interested in the attractions of the Festival of Jewish Culture.

Jewish cuisine in particular is one of the most flavoursome and varied there is. In the tents set up in the Arsenal Square, the following typical dishes are sold:

1. savoury: varenike (a type of cake stuffed with mashed potatoes and onions and cooked in water), krepale (cheese ravioli), falafel (pita bread stuffed with fried chickpeas and vegetables), kügel (noodles pie), beigale (cheese or potato pastry), guefilte fish, helzale (a casing made of chicken skin stuffed with fried manioc flour), tchuln (beef stew), cholodetz (beef gelatine served cold), kashe (buckwheat) with sauce and others;

2. sweet: fludn (the famous “Jewish wedding candy” made with flaked pasta, walnuts, nuts, raisins and fruit in syrup), apfestrudel (apple strudel), ricotta pie, cheese pie, chonik leikech (honey cake), grape cake, fruit cake, walnut cake, apricot pie, chocolate pie, ekamish (small stuffed biscuit).

Besides the rich gastronomy, there are workshops, book fairs, art exhibitions, folk songs (by members of Recife’s Jewish community) and dances. Up to this year, the Festival of Jewish Culture has already taken place seventeen times, five of which were in Recife Antigo.

Recife, 28 August 2008.
Translated by Peter Leamy, October 2016.

sources consulted

CULTURA judaica invade o Recife antigo neste domingo. Disponível em: <>.  Acesso em: 9 jun. 2008.

QUEM, onde, como? Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 15 jun. 2008.

RECIFE Antigo torna-se território judaico neste domingo. Disponível em: <>.  Acesso em: 14 jun. 2008.

VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Culinária judaica. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 10 jun. 2008.

______. Recife (bairro). Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 15 jun. 2008.

how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Festival da cultura judaica. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em:dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.