Maintaining Jewish life in the heart of the Amazon is anything but simple for Rabbi Arieh and Dvorah Lea Raichman, who settled in Manaus, Brazil, in 2009. Like their counterparts all over the Portuguese-speaking country, they will be using their know-how and resources to accommodate the confluence of Jewish visitors who have descended on their city for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which is taking place in 12 cities scattered across Brazil over June and July.
Inaccessible by roads from any other cities in Brazil, located in the middle of the Amazon jungle—where the Negro and the Solimões rivers join to form the Amazon—the city attracted Jewish explorers and entrepreneurs in the 19th century, especially from Morocco.
In fact, in 1910, Rabbi Shalom Muyal of Morocco, who had traveled up the Amazon to foster Jewish observance among the settlers, passed away of disease and is buried in the Manaus municipal cemetery. He has come to be regarded as a saint by many in the local non-Jewish population, who make regular pilgrimages to his gravesite.
Today, the rabbi estimates that there are less than 1,000 Jewish people in Manaus, mostly descendants of the Sephardic traders. For 99 years after Muyal’s passing, they were without a rabbi until the Houston native arrived with his wife, of Belem, Brazil, and their infant son. They have since had three more children.
Aside from the isolation, Raichman says another challenge of living in Manaus is the oppressive climate—sultry even for someone raised in the sweltering Houston heat. In fact, the weather was cause for a minor scandal late last year when England national football team manager Roy Hodgson expressed his reservations about having his team play in Manaus’s tropical conditions. In the end, the games were rescheduled for evenings.
In anticipation of the four soccer matches that will be held there, city officials had the new Arena da Amazonia built with capacity to hold 46,000 people. With teams representing England, the United States and Italy scheduled to play, Jewish fans are sure to follow.
Since Manaus is so isolated, the rabbi explains that kosher food is brought up the Amazon River by boat from Belem, which takes a week in a refrigerated container, or sent by air from São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and the largest city south of the equator. He generally makes a kosher order every two weeks for himself and the nine other families who keep kosher.
Ahead of the World Cup, Raichman placed an extra-large order of food and has a full-time chef at his Chabad House—Chabad-Lubavitch of Manaus—preparing meals for visitors wishing to keep kosher.
With a deluge of guests visiting the river city, the rabbi says he has also been fielding an ever-increasing number of calls from people looking for hotel vacancies: “I’ve been helping them find where to stay, and some whose accommodations will be too far to walk over for Shabbat services will be guests in our house for Shabbat.”
Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org. He lives with his family in Montreal, QC.