BROOKLYN, NY — Eduardo Rothschild I. Caras is grateful he was not among the 300 beachgoers stung by jellyfish in S. Paulo on Sunday.
The 15 year-old Brazilian considered what he would be doing if he weren’t enjoying a Chabad sponsored trip that mixes Judaism, touring New York and skiing in Canada. He and nineteen others in his group drove in a gleaming white bus to a kosher ice cream shop in Brooklyn for a Sundae run minutes to midnight after Shabbat.
If not at the beach, he told Lubavitch.com between spoonfuls of double fudge ice cream, he’d be on his cell, playing soccer, or touring Florida’s Disneyworld with another youth group.
That, said Rabbi Noach Gansburg, one of Chabad’s representatives in S. Paulo, is the problem. It’s a rite of passage for Brazilian teens to head to the U.S. on group tours during their summer vacation. After weeks of bunking in hotels and spending hours traveling by bus and plane, the kids bond and come home deep in puppy love, often with their non-Jewish tour mates. It’s the last thing S. Paulo’s Jewish population of 60,000 needs: Demographers estimate six out of every ten Brazilian Jews marry out of the faith.
For tradition minded Jews, S. Paulo is the place to be in Brazil with the infrastructure every Jewish community requires. Chabad, a presence in Brazil since World War II hosts seven centers in the state, a day school and yeshiva, and three mikvahs. The community supports still more Jewish schools, mikvahs, synagogues, kosher restaurants and supermarkets.
To keep the unaffiliated from disappearing, Chabad-Lubavitch leaders in S. Paulo are turning to creative programs like Noach Adventures to fight the tide of assimilation. The travel program began four years ago to expose some of Brazil’s least affiliated Jewish teenagers ages 10-16 to the idea that Judaism and exciting adventures mix, well. Twenty boys took part in December’s trip to New York and Canada, including a blond haired teen from Belo Horizonte, who endured a seven-hour drive to join the group before it departed from S. Paulo. For the first time this year, Rabbi Gansburg and his wife Pessy will be returning to the U.S. with an all-girls group.