From ‘Tropical Land’ to ‘Promised Land,’ Brazilian aliyah surges

The arrival of more than 200 French Jews who made aliyah, at Ben Gurion International Airport on July 20, 2016. (Photo: Flash 90)

Jewish Immigration to Israel from South America, and specifically from Brazil, had generally been average relative to the population of the Jewish community there. According to official statistics, 270 new immigrants came from Brazil during 2015.

This year, however, that number has more than doubled as some 700 new immigrants made up the highest number ever of Jews coming to Israel in one year from “the beautiful tropical land,” as Brazil is called in a popular song.

In November, I attended a meeting here in Israel between olim (immigrants) and leaders of the Jewish community of São Paulo. The “locals,” eight immigrants who all arrived within the last decade, shared their experiences and what led them to make aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel).

Most of the speakers testified that although their economic situation in Brazil was comfortable, they emigrated because of the unstable political situation in Brazil. All of them had one major reason in common: personal security. One woman said that despite economic comfort, she felt she was “living inside a comfortable prison.” In cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo those who have economic means live in closed compounds with guards, bars on the windows and doors, surveillance cameras and more – indeed a home prison.

Others said they came purely for better economic opportunities.

A few weeks later, when I spoke with Messianic Jewish immigrants from Brazil, I saw a completely different picture: Rather than reasons of personal security, the political situation or economics, Messianic Jews responded to a direct call from the God of Israel, to “return to the homeland of the Jewish people.”

In this article, I changed the names of those I interviewed, or used only their first names, in order to protect their privacy.

Yaakov and Shir, now living near Jerusalem, came from the metropolis São Paulo in 2015 with 2 little children. Their third was born here a few months ago. Yaakov was a manager at General Motors and their economic situation was very good in Brazil. Here, as they serve in the leadership of a local congregation, they are actually “depending upon the grace of God every day,” Yaakov said.

“Our families told us we are crazy as we left very good jobs in Brazil and came here with our two babies and with our resources only,” Yaakov told KNI. With great faith that all would work out and that God would take care of them, Yaakov and Shir left everything behind.

“Here we can teach our children about Judaism, without the paganism and idolatry which so rampant in Brazil,” they said.

Yaakov and Shir were excited when their son was Abba shel Shabbat (father of Shabbat) at kindergarten.

“The fact that we can celebrate all the Feasts of Adonai, according to Leviticus, it is awesome,” Yaakov added.

Two other families, who made aliyah in the 1990s, are very active in their congregations. They too, said it was a direct order from God to move to Israel.

Daniel and Hadassah lived in the Paraiba province in northeastern Brazil. Hadassah’s ancestors are Jews from Portugal who moved to the “Tropical Land” during the Portuguese colonization period in 1500. Daniel and Hadassah made aliyah in 1996 with her mother and sister. They settled in Ramat Hasharon. Their son was born here.

Daniel, Hadassah and her mother are very active in their congregation. In Brazil, Daniel worked in telecommunications and Hadassah in design. Here Hadassah works in the field of music. Daniel works in his familiar field, telecommunication, in one of Israel’s largest banks.

“There, we had a stable, yet inexpensive cost of living. Here, it is stable too, yet costly,” Hadassah said. Their main reason for immigration to Israel was Zionism, she said: “For this is God’s command to the people of Israel.”

Michael and Shulamit, who live in Modi’in, immigrated to Israel from Rio de Janeiro in 1998. They came as a young couple and their three children were born here. Michael, from an extensive Jewish family in Rio, worked as creative director in a large publicity agency. Here he works as a graphic designer and has published countless books in Portuguese about different aspects of Israel and the Messianic faith.

“In Brazil I worked hard and earned approximately 10,000 shekels a month, in addition to working as a teacher of graphic design,” Michael said. “I knew I had a clear call from the Lord to make aliyah to Israel, so I started to pray. And because we did not want to be in disagreement, we began to pray together. We received clear confirmation when Shulamit had a vision in a dream while I was attending a conference in another state in Brazil.”

Michael is also very active in a congregation in Modi’in, serving as elder and worship leader. He also volunteers his talents in digital design for local organizations such as Bead Chaim (Pro-Life), Love to the Needy and the international organization, Gideons.

I asked each of the couples a few questions about their transcontinental move.

Do you think that was the best decision?

Yaakov and Shir: “There is nothing more perfect than to be the center of God’s will.”

Daniel and Hadassah: “Yes, because God determined that we should come to Israel.”

Michael Shulamit: “I don’t think, I’m sure it was the right decision. I want to obey God in everything I do. If not so, surely I’d regret it.”

What sort of advice do you have for people contemplating moving to Israel, but fear what might happen if Israel’s Ministry of Interior finds out about their faith in Yeshua and threatens to block them?

Yaakov and Shir: “Do not deny the name of Jesus, ever!” (“‘Whoever acknowledges Me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.But whoever disowns Me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.’” Matthew 10:32-33)

“There are 161 references in the Bible to the subject of immigration,” Yaakov added.

Daniel and Hadassah: “Make sure that the decision to make aliyah is based on God’s will.”

Michael and Shulamit: “If God calls you to make aliyah, do not waste time. But, if you are only enthusiastic about the idea, don’t come. If you are a Messianic Jew, you belong here! It will not always be a ‘sea of roses,’ as they say in Portuguese, which means far too easy. It may be even harder. But, returning to the land of our forefathers is to take part in the fulfillment of the prophecies. So go ahead and start packing your suitcases!”

Which verses from the Bible guided you to immigrate to Israel?

Yaakov and Shir: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:8

Daniel and Hadassah: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.” Isaiah 62:1

Michael and Shulamit said two verses confirmed their call to Israel – and fast!

“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:38

“The Lord God has opened My ear; And I was not disobedient nor did I turn back.” Isaiah 50:5

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Rachel (Rachely) Scapa, studied journalism at the Open University TLV under Yedioth Aharonoth's journalist Dudi Goldman. Rachel served as news correspondent for various radio stations abroad, including BBC 3 Counties and Voice of America, both in English and Portuguese, giving the best reports from Israel. Currently she has two radio shows - one in Portuguese, which she has had for more than 13 years, presenting News from Israel and the ME. In the other, in Hebrew, she presents Brazilian music, on an Israeli radio station. Rachely is also a columnist for a Christian newspaper in Brazil, distributed over the triple border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.