Feature Stories

Ahead of World Cup, Brazilian Jews Conduct First-of-Its-Kind Study on Identity

photo: Hebraica São Paulo

If you’re one of thousands of Jewish tourists planning on visiting the Jewish community of Brazil while you’re in the country for the 2014 FIFA World Cup this summer, you might be wondering what to expect.

Are Brazilian Jews rich or poor? Religious or secular? Connected to or detached from Israel?

You’re not alone in wondering! Questions like these have long been on the minds of community members themselves.

In search of an answer, JDC has teamed up with Federação Israelita do Estado de Sao Paulo (FISEP) to carry out a first-of-its-kind study of current trends within Brazilian Jewry.

“We wanted to better know what Brazilian Jews thought about their identity so we commissioned a comprehensive study similar to others we carried out in a number of Jewish communities,” said Gabriel Milevsky, the CEO of the JCC Hebraica in Sao Paulo and JDC's representative in the country for more than 20 years.

About 900 Jews from Sao Paulo — the biggest community in the country — were asked 90 questions on a wide range of issues yielding a trove of interesting information.

"Brazilian Jews tend to be middle or upper class," said Milevsky, quoting the initial data.

The study found that about 70 percent are very proud of their institutions, which include the Hebraica — a sprawling community center replete with a soccer field, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a small shopping mall — and the Sociedade Beneficente Israelita Brasileira Hospital Albert Einstein, one of the country’s top medical facilities.

While these findings were more or less expected, others were more surprising.

“We’ve seen that over the past 10 years the number of religious members of the community has grown,” Milevsky said.

About 80 percent or respondents said they were secular or traditional. About 7 to 8 percent are observant Orthodox and another 6 percent Haredi — an increase from previous years.

Connection to Israel was strong across the board: More than 92 percent of those asked had been to Israel, some 50 percent said they had been there at least three times, and about 70 percent said they followed news on Israel and the Middle East.

Milevsky said data gathered during the study is still being analyzed and more findings are sure to follow.

While the study covered a wide range of issues, the Brazilian-Jewish respondents were not asked which team they supported in the World Cup.

“They probably won’t be supporting Argentina,” joked Milevsky.

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