Rio de Janeiro is known for its carnival celebrations and its spectacular beaches and landscapes. Perhaps lesser known is the Jewish history of this wonderful city, which stretches back when Europeans first landed here.
As well as being amongst the first European explorers to travel here, Jews who had fled to Amsterdam during the Spanish Inquisition began arriving in Brazil during the period of Dutch Rule. They settled in the northeast of the country and founded, according to many, the first synagogue of the Americas in 1636.
The Portuguese named the area here Rio de Janeiro (January River) in 1502 having sailed into Guanabara Bay and mistaken it for the mouth of a large River. The city of Rio was established in 1565 and later became the capital of the State of Brazil. In 1808 under Queen Maria I, when the court of Portugal was transferred to Brazil, Rio was the royal’s chosen home and remained so until the Brazilian Independence.
Successive waves of immigration since independence have led to Brazil's Jewish population becoming the 9th largest in the world. Religious freedom was established in the first constitution written in 1824. Later, in the 1930s, more Jewish immigrants arrived as the Nazis rose to power, and still more once WWII had ended.
During the war, in 1941, Dr Heinrich Lemle from Frankfurt founded the Associação Religiosa Israelita Synagogue in Rio for the German refugees living in Rio de Janeiro.
Throughout the city, we can see signs of a well-established, thriving Jewish community.