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130-Plus Men Join ‘Mega Tefillin Wrap’ in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

130-Plus Men Join ‘Mega Tefillin Wrap’ in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Building on last year’s Hakhel success, rabbis see a positive trend

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Inside a new building and synagogue, Jewish men and boys over the age of 13 gathered for prayer, words of Torah, to meet friends and to savor refreshments as part of an event that marked 50 years of the Rebbe's Tefillin Campaign. (Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
Inside a new building and synagogue, Jewish men and boys over the age of 13 gathered for prayer, words of Torah, to meet friends and to savor refreshments as part of an event that marked 50 years of the Rebbe's Tefillin Campaign. (Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)

In some places in the world with large Jewish populations, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries can attract thousands to mega-events like challah bakes, public menorah-lightings and massive Shabbat dinners.

But in Belo Horizonte, Brazil—where more than 130 men congregated on a recent Sunday morning (wintertime there) to put on tefillin—the gathering was no less substantial. In fact, it reinforced a Jewish community that has seen a move towards religious traditions after decades in one of the most populated metropolitan areas in this vast South American country.

Rabbi Nissim and Rivkah Chava Katri arrived 30 years ago to serve the 600 or so Jewish families, about the same number that resides there today. “When we first came here, Jewish institutions were in the process of disintegration, and there seemed to be little interest in Judaism,” recalls the rabbi. “Now we have a daily minyan, mikvah, school, kosher kitchen.”

In fact, Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte (“Beautiful Horizon” in Portuguese) sports a brand-new headquarters with all the modern amenities buildings have to offer these days. While they moved in before Rosh Hashanah 2015, they are still completing the final stages of the building.

To mark the Hakhel year in 2016, Chabad held a mega-tefillin event that brought out dozens of Jewish men and boys over the age of 13 to do a mitzvah. Similar events were replicated afterwards in other parts of Brazil; one of the goals was to help jump-start other communities into action.

This year, more than 130 put on tefillin, prayed Shacharit and recited a prayer of healing for the sick. The event was timed to mark the 50th year of the Tefillin Campaign begun by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—before the Six-Day War in June 1967.

(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)

The crowd also watched a video on the war called “Peace Upon the Land,” complete with Portuguese subtitles; heard a talk from Katri based on the reminiscences of world-renowned Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin; posed for some group photos; and sang an uplifting niggun.

“This event was important because of the impact it caused in the community—people felt good taking time to pray, to hear words of Torah, to meet friends and savor refreshments. It’s not an easy task to gather so many people into a community that does not have tens of thousands of Jews,” says Rabbi Mendel Katri, who has recently come to work at the Chabad House founded by his parents. “For some, it was their first time in synagogue.”

Rabbi Mendel Katri assists a participant. (Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
Rabbi Mendel Katri assists a participant. (Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)

“What makes me happy and hopeful,” he continues, “is that the vast majority of the men in the community respond positively when asked to put on tefillin. Every month, I visit new people at their homes and offices to encourage the practice—to make Jewish connections, to maintain contact with them and alert them to the holidays.”

Both rabbis stress that the increase in the mitzvah is significant.

The elder Katri notes that not too long ago in Belo Horizonte, “people literally fled when you approached them and asked if they were Jewish. But that has changed; you can see it with your own eyes. You now see Jews buying their own tefillin and putting them on every day.”

(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)
(Photo: Beit Chabad de Belo Horizonte)


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