Before a ball has even been kicked, Brazil grows its own community

By Isabel de Bertodano, June 12, 2014
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When the World Cup match between Argentina and Iran kicks off next Saturday, a group of Jewish fans will be prominent in the crowd, with a banner reading: “Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof” (“justice, justice, we shall pursue”).

The message marls the 1994 bombing of the Amia Jewish social centre in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed. The attack is widely believed to have been carried out by Iranian agents.

“As Jews we are obliged to demonstrate that we continue to seek justice,” said Marcelo Schlez, founder of the group, Judíos Fanáticos del Fútbol (Jewish Connect), which is also campaigning for a minute’s silence before the game in the city of Belo Horizonte begins.

“We see the match between Argentina and Iran as a great opportunity to tell the world that this case is still unresolved and there have been no convictions,” said Mr Schlez.

Beyond the protest on Saturday, he and his partner Paola Salem are organising a series of events across Brazil for Jews travelling to the World Cup, beginning with a havdalah celebration on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro at sunset tomorrow.

The couple, both football addicts, brim with excitement at the prospect of bringing together hundreds of Jews from around the world.

“We know everyone coming to Brazil will have their team colours as their priority but we would love it if everyone could also connect through their Jewish colours and make the most of this unique moment,” said Ms Salem.

The pair initially planned to organise three events in Brazil but as they contacted local communities the project ballooned. It now encompasses 14 events in seven cities, including Manaus, deep in the Amazon jungle, where England play their first game.

Events will include Shabbat ceremonies, tours of areas of Jewish interest, and friendly matches between supporters. Manaus rabbi, Arieh Raichman, has been bringing in kosher food for his tiny community of nine families by plane and boat along the Amazon as it is not accessible by road.

He said: “We expect between 300 and 600 Jewish supporters will contact us and come by the Chabad house for Shabbat meals and prayers.”

Ms Salem said:“It’s amazing how much it’s grown and how enthusiastic everyone has been about the idea.”

“Going to a World Cup is a once in a lifetime experience for most people,” said Mr Schlez. “We must make the most of it.”

So far Jews from Canada, Spain and Israel have joined the group.

FIFA sales figures revealed that Israelis have bought 11,222 match tickets, the largest number after Canada without a team in the tournament. Tourist industry sources estimate there could be 4,000 Israeli fans in Brazil.

Last updated: 3:47pm, June 12 2014