The Jewish community of 21st century Brazil is much like that of other South American Jewish communities. The Brazilian Jewish community is diverse, consisting of Ashkenazim and Sephardim, traditional and assimilated Jews, the wealthy and the poor. Jews are generally accepted within the larger Brazilian population.
The Jewish presence in Brazil is nearly as old as the original Portugese settlement (1500), since conversos (secret Jews) began fleeing Portugal as soon as the Portugese Inquisition was declared (1497).
In 1624, when Dutch forces conquered a large swath of northeastern Brazil, many conversos gained religious freedom for the first time. The Jewish community in Recife flourished and, in 1636, established the Kahal Zur synagogue. Six years later, Rabbi Isaac Aboab de Fonseca of Amsterdam arrived. In 1654, however, the Portugese succeeded in driving the Dutch out of their territory, once again creating hardships for the Jewish community.
Some Jews fled the return of the Portugese and the Inquisition (most famously the first Jews of New York). Those who remained, faced persecution, and the Kahal Zur synagogue was forced shut in 1655. By 1773, however, the Inquisition had lost its power and a Portugese royal decree abolished discrimination against Jews.
On September 7, 1822, Brazil achieved its independence and thus began a new, relatively peaceful, chapter in Brazilian Jewish history. Many Moroccan immigrants arrived in the mid-19th century. European Jews began to arrive at the turn of the 20th century via the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA). The agricultural colonies of the JCA failed, but the Jews themselves thrived.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Brazil was ruled by a fascist regime that shut down Jewish publications. In 1942, the Brazilian populace pressured the government to join the allies. After the war, except for a few anti-Semitic incidents (mainly in the south where many Germans had settled), Jewish life has flourished, just as it has for the greater Brazilian population.
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