Brazil Jewish schools conclude first national conference

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Brazil’s Jewish communities held their first national conference for the faculty of the country’s approximately 20 major Jewish schools.

Titled “National Encounter for Jewish Schools,” the two-day event’s opening session in Sao Paulo Sunday was attended by representatives from 18 Jewish schools from that city as well as from Rio de Janeiro and other locales, including Recife in the north and Porto Alegre in Brazil’s south.

Participants said they would work to turn the conference into an annual event.

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In a statement about the March 8-9 event, CONIB, the umbrella group that organized the meeting, wrote that one of the objectives was to form a Jewish education network that transcends some of the ideological divides that have limited parents’ choices in the country. Brazil, home to South America’s second-largest Jewish community, has approximately 120,000 Jews.

Silvio Hotimsky, a prominent educator and psychoanalyst from Sao Paulo who spoke at the event, said that parents seeking Jewish schools for their children were forced to choose between a more secular Jewish education that inspired unconditional support for Israel as one of its core values, and a religious attitude that cultivated insularism.

“In the 19th and 20th century, Judaism began being regarded as part of dichotomy: Either it was connected to Israel, or it was connected to religion,” he said “Thus, Judaism’s spiritual and cultural vision was diminished.” Parents, he said, need “an option that connects to the root” of Judaism.

Another issue discussed at the conference was job placement for teachers who graduate from a recently launched program that trains teachers in Jewish studies at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, with support from the Jewish community. The program was launched in 2010 but not all the graduates have been able to find work at Jewish schools, according to Sonia Kramer, a teacher at the institution.

Coincidentally, the Brazilian conference took place at the same time North American Jewish day school educators were convening in Philadelphia. That conference drew more than 1,000 professionals from over 400 schools in the United States and Canada.