The Jewish Synagogue of Recife
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Last update: 20/03/2020
In the first decade of the 20th century, there were only four Jewish families in Recife, and they lived in the Boa Vista neighbourhood. Lead by Mr Avrum Ishie Vainer, the families celebrated their religious festivals and services, such as Shabbat (the Day of Rest), Rosh Hashanah (the New Year), and Yom Kippur (the Day of Forgiveness) in one of their homes, called the Sukuron Synagogue, since they did not yet have a specific place to function as a temple. Their leaders were Abraão Josué Vainer (Avrum Ishie Vainer), Abraão Cherpak, Scholem Fainbaum and Elich Foigel.
In the following years, with the intensification of anti-Semitic persecution and the arrival in Recife of more immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe – the Ashkenazi, those who speak the Yiddish language – the families made two important undertakings: 1. they acquired land for building a cemetery; and 2. formed the first institutionalised nucleus of the Jewish community, the Pernambuco Israelite Centre.
On 20 July 1926, a Jewish temple was founded in the property of 29 Martins Júnior Street in the Boa Vista neighbourhood, which for some time became known as Shil Sholem Ocnitzer, in honour of one of its founders. Its first board of directors was Jayme Averbuch (Chairman), Samuel Fainbaum (Vice-chairman), Maurício Simis (Treasurer), Aron Tabatshnik (Deputy Treasurer), and J. Fainbaum (Secretary). The place was later called the Synagoga Israelita da Boa Vista [Boa Vista Israelite Synagogue]; and from 1987, updated the spelling of its name to Sinagoga Israelita de Recife [Recife Israelite Synagogue].
Its façade is very simple, having the star of David, a star of six points that is formed by two triangles: one with the tip up, pointing to everything that is spiritual, and the other, with the tip down, pointing to all that is earthly. The star of David has been used from modern times as the symbol of Jewish identity.
In the Jewish Synagogue of Recife, made of wood, there is a tribune, a cabinet with the tablets of Moses (between two lions), and many chairs, in which the names of the members of the Jewish colony at the time can be read. On the walls are some posters and pictures in Hebrew. One of them, written in Portuguese, deserves to be highlighted:
God almighty, Lord of the universe, we ask for your blessing and protection for this glorious Fatherland, Brazil. Give your wise counsel to your leaders, the dignified President of the Republic, dignified Governor of the State and his collaborators, so that they may always follow the path of justice and righteousness. Be it your will to bless this Country and its People with eternal peace and prosperity.
Unlike the Recife Synagogue – Kahal Zur Israel, the Israelite Synagogue of Recife does not have a Mikveh – a kind of bathtub, fed by a cistern of clean and fluent water in which Jews take ritual baths and purify themselves before God for various reasons.
It is worth informing that the Synagogue of the Sephardic Jews (Jews from Spain, England, Italy, South of France, the Netherlands and North Africa) that although now closed, functioned for many years in the building at 84 Rua da Matriz in the Boa Vista neighbourhood, and then settled in the premises of the Israelite Centre of Pernambuco, which operated from 215 Rua da Glória until 1950.
There was also another temple in Recife, Shil Chaim Leib Kelner (named after its founder, Dr Salamão Kelner's grandfather), which operated from 1940 to 1965 at 366 Leão Coroado Street, also in the Boa Vista neighbourhood.
Recife, 26 July 2004.
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.
FRANCA, Rubem. Monumentos do Recife. Recife: Secretaria de Educação e Cultura, 1977.
KAUFMAN, Tânia Neumann. Passos perdidos, história recuperada: a presença judaica em Pernambuco. Recife: Edição do Autor, 2000.
SINAGOGA Israelita do Recife. Disponível em: <www.arquivojudaicope.org.br>. Acesso em: 14 jul. 2004.
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Source: Vainsencher, Semira Adler. Sinagoga Israelita do Recife. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/>. Acesso em: dia mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.