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The mark of David's Star in Recife
Zur Israel is the mark of David's Star in Recife - The saga of the Jews in the New World

Buildings 197 and 203 Bom Jesus Street, Recife's port district. In that place functioned the first synagogue in the Americas, qualifying Pernambuco's capital city as the cradle to the presence of Jewish people in Brazilian lands, which dates back to the country's first years. The importance of the Jewish community on the existence of Colonial Brazil, under Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch domination, was ratified by Historical Brazilian Institute, which anticipates the registering of the building where Zur Israel (Israel Rock) Synagogue was founded. The buildings were restored in a project that sought to harmonize the aesthetic interest with the documentary finality.

The project is considered to be a bringing back of the memory of the adventure of the Jews on the New World, and sought to associate the interest of the archaeological findings on the excavations that have revealed a rich legacy below the present level, with the use of the building as the center of documentation and Jewish memorial. The cult hall's space alone was rebuilt considering the historical and artistic interest of the place. Open to the public, the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue is right now a favorite attraction to tourists interested in knowing the mark left by the Jewish on Brazil.

It was on the first half of the seventeenth century, at the time of the Dutch government of Mauricio de Nassau (1637?44) in which there was religious freedom, that a Jewish community was formed in Pernambuco. The continuous Jewish migration occurred not only for religious motivation, but also by economic interests. A great number of Sefarsim Jews and some few Ashkenazim ones who emigrated from Poland and Germany towards Netherlands made their way to Pernambuco, and there devoted themselves specially to the commerce sector. Some of them even possessed engines and dedicated themselves to charge taxes and traffic slaves from Africa's coast.

The first notice there is about the arrival of Jews on Brazil coincides with the company of Pedro Alvares Cabral, who brought some new Christians in his ships, such as Gaspar do Gama, who would have been the first Jew to step Brazilian soil. Right after, in 1542, Diogo Fernandes and Pedro Alvares Madeira, also a Jew, converted to Catholicism, received lands in Pernambuco and created Camarogibe engine, called Santiago at the time. History has it that Diogo, Branca Dias' husband, fomented a double religiosity, following secretly the principles of the Jewish traditions in his engine. Camaragibe was known as Land of Synagogues, demonstrating the silent force of the Star of David on the region.

In the Camaragibe engine, like in many others engines used as synagogues in the region, Jewish rituals like Yom Kippur and the Huts' Festival were realized, and the new Christians could stay away from curious eyes and practice their true faith. "Most of these Jews would come from Clinda to Camaragibe facing a long journey in order to take part in the feast away from the curious," reveals historian and researcher of Jewish life in Pernambuco, Josh Alexandre Ribemboim, of the Archaeological Institute.

According to the accounts of that time, Jewish from various parts came to Pernambuco, but specially from Netherlands. Still according to the same sources, Manuel Mendes de Castro even brought in a single trip, in 1636, two hundred Jews, rich and poor, women and children. The community grew and some of its components settled on Bode Street ? which was thenceforth called Jews' Street ? until 1654, when the Dutch were expelled from Pernambuco.

The book Senhores de Engenho: Judeus em Pernambuco Colonial (Engine Lords: Jews in Colonial Pernambuco), by Ribemboim, mentions the existence of another engine, named Sao Martinho (deactivated), which also worked as a synagogue. Father Francisco Doutel, vicar of Sao Lourengo (1591), denounces that the synagogue would have worked before 1550. Field researches to prove the existence of other synagogues in the region continue to be conducted and according to anthropologist Tfinia Kaufman, "we are realizing investigations in historical documents, but it's a fact that the area was populated by synagogues."

From Recife to New York: With the capitulation of the troops of the West Indies Company, which in 27 January 1654, resulted in the expulsion of the Dutch from Pernambuco, around 150 Jewish families come back to the Netherlands. Some of them returned to the New World and founded new communities in Caribbean and North American islands. Out from Recife, some of these groups embarked the ship Volk, after landing on Jamaica as prisoners of the Spanish, they were freed by the French and headed with them towards NewAmsterdam, aboard the ship Sainte Catherine. Twenty three Jews of this group were already in New Amsterdam by September 1654, and there they founded the first Jewish community on the city that came to be New York. According to a nonpublished manuscript, written by the Amsterdam's main Hakkham, Soul Levi Motero (1660), this group had a better luck: the oldest volume of reports of New York city informs that among these twenty three adults and children three men were identified as having signed the book of records of the Zur Israel Congregation of Recife, in the year of 1648. They were Abraham Israel, David Istael and Mose Lumbroso. These Jews, sheltered in Brazil, were the founders of New York's first Jewish community.

'S4 woman of strong personality and what she represented as a human figure in the bosom of a family and of Pernambuco's society of that time" is how Branca Dias is described by Pernambuco Archaeological, Historical and Geographic Institute's director, Josh Ribemboim. Wife of Diogo Fernandes, to whom she was married against the will of her mother, from this union were born eight daughters and three sons. Diogo came to Brazil by himself leaving his family in Portugal. In the meantime, he would have kept sexual relations with a servant, with whom he had a daughter by the name Briolanja. In Pernambuco, Branca, proving her great love for her husband, kept Diogo's bastard child in her home.
Branca and Diogo were the proprietors of the Camaragibe engine, partially destroyed. In order to attenuate the financial difficulties of her family, Branca opened a sewing and tilling school for ladies, in her house. With the death of Diogo Fernandes, between 1563 and 1567, Branca, in a demonstration of vitality and strong character, as described by Ribemboim, assumed the administration of the engine and stayed in it for over twenty years.

In her religion, Branca also stood out in a remarkable way, not only in the organizing of her "clandestine synagogue" in Olinda, but also in the preparation of major religious feasts in her engine of Camaragibe. And Ribemboim stresses the personality of Branca Dias as "a human figure plenteous with dignity, persistence and loyalty to the faith of her ancestral relatives. The solid pith of a well?built family that would become, for its numerous progeny, the top of the genealogical tree of a great part of the most traditional families of Pernambuco.

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