São Paulo’s synagogue-turned-museum to open
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São Paulo’s synagogue-turned-museum to open

'The first thing you see when you walk in the lobby is a piece that explores what it means to be a Jew'

The front of the former synagogue
The front of the former synagogue

The Jewish Museum of São Paulo is set to open next month after the 10-year refurbishment of a synagogue to repurpose the building into one designed to educate non-Jewish Brazilians.

Temple Beth-El was inaugurated in 1932 but by 2004 rainwater was leaking in and plants were growing up the walls. It last held services over the High Holy Day in 2007, and in three weeks’ time it will become the country’s largest Jewish museum, with each of its five floors celebrating a different theme.

“The first thing you see when you walk in the lobby is a piece that explores what it means to be a Jew,” said museum president Sergio Simon, speaking to JTA.

He estimates that there are around 120,000 Jews in Brazil today, half of whom live in São Paulo. The city is home to several Jewish clubs and schools, a federation and the renowned Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein.

Using historical photos, the restoration team has sought to recreate the building’s original design, even contacting the stained-glass windows’ manufacturers in the US.

In the cupula, a slideshow depicts the history of Brazilian Jews, while the walls carry explanations on Jewish holidays and lifecycle events. On the former altar are Torah scrolls and sacred books, plus a “virtual Torah” .

Augusto Chagas, 36, a member of the city’s Jewish community, said the museum will dispel misconceptions.  “Many believe Jews came here because of the Second World War, but really, Jews arrived in Brazil as early as the 1500s.”

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