Established in 1942 by a small group of German Jewish immigrants that fled Nazi persecution, the Associação Religiosa Israelita (ARI) is today Rio de Janeiro’s largest Jewish congregation with a membership of more than 900 families. A progressive Reform community, it is one of the most important centers of Jewish life in the city catering not only to spiritual needs but to cultural and intellectual pursuits as well.
Since 1962 services have been held in a landmark Modernist temple in the Botafogo neighborhood at the southern end of the city. There is a daily worship service at 6:45 p.m. and a Friday night Shabbat service at 7 p.m. preceded at 6 p.m. by a gathering over coffee and cake in the social hall. There are also special Shabbat services at 7 p.m. on Friday nights for children nine and under as well as a separate service designed for teens. Additional services are held Saturdays at 9:30 p.m., Thursdays at 7 a.m. as well as at 7 a.m. on the first day of every month of the Hebrew calendar.
The ARI temple complex also houses both religious and day schools for children and offers educational opportunities for adults as well including Torah study, classes in Jewish rituals and customs plus courses and lectures on non religious topics of particular interest to Jews. The collection of 4,000 books in the temple library makes it the most comprehensive resource for Jewish historical and cultural information in the entire city. A full program of arts events is also scheduled year round including a popular series of live music performances held in the main sanctuary.
In addition to a focus on life cycle events, the mission of the synagogue includes engaging in the civic life of the city through volunteer work. A brigade of more than 200 congregation members addresses not only the needs of the local Jewish community but works to improve the city as a whole by donating their time and energy to improvement and clean up efforts wherever they are needed.
Members also work to support Zionism and the State of Israel by sharing with the non Jewish community why those are lofty goals and why the Jewish state is so important to the survival of the Jewish people. That is a message that is embraced by people in every community throughout Rio exemplified by the fact the city has been a safe haven for Jews for almost 200 years, relatively free of anti-Semitism or overt religious discrimination.
While a bastion of tolerance that follows a liberal interpretation of Judaism and was in fact the first synagogue in Brazil to employ a female rabbi, the religious practices of the ARI are grounded in the long standing traditions of the Jewish faith. Yet, most of all what animates the synagogue is the concept of Tikkun Olam or repairing the world and the role that the congregation as a whole and each individual member take in accomplishing that goal.