Jewish Center in Brazil Caters to Community Poor

Chabad opens new center for Ten Yad social services program, to serve over 8,000 poor in one of Brazil's largest cities.

Tova Dvorin ,

Front of new Jewish center in São Paulo
Front of new Jewish center in São Paulo
Bentzy Sasson

A new Jewish Center opened Sunday in São Paulo, Brazil, sponsored by the social services arm of global outreach group Chabad.

The inauguration, which was timed to be close to the Hanukkah holiday, was attended by several dignitaries, including São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin, Jewish community representatives and leading rabbis.

The multi-million dollar center was dedicated in memory of philanthropist Joseph Safra's mother, Esther. The center is part of the "Ten Yad" (lit. "lend a hand" in Hebrew) program, which provides food and social services for São Paulo’s poor.

According to The Rio Times, almost 16.7 million Brazilians live below the national poverty line. In São Paulo, this includes roughly 8,000 Jews.

Ten Yad has provided food for the poor since 1992 through soup kitchens, "meals on wheels" programs for the elderly and disabled, and food collection and distribution programs. In addition, recent expansions have allowed for more intensive social service programs, including aid for the homeless, scholarships, and support systems for orphans and prisoners. 

Rabbi Dovid Weitman, a Chabad representative in São Paulo and chief rabbi of the Sephardic community center there, said the new center was prompted by the desire to ensure that those suffering from poverty “should not live on the margins of society, but should be empowered to participate socially, and to celebrate their own family life-cycle events in dignity, with pride.”

Rabbi Weitman told Chabad representatives that the center's $4.5 million budget is entirely funded by private philanthropists. The center measures six stories high and is open 24 hours per day to provide food, social services, and event catering for the impoverished. It also inludes an ophthalmic clinic, a reading library, and an auditorium.

“This is a truly happening place, where adults and children can hang out in a  constructive environment, make use of the well-equipped game rooms, watch films, enjoy the library, all in  a lively, inviting setting,” said Mrs. Fany Waiswohl, coordinator of the volunteer services. Some 300 volunteers work at the center, in tandem with a team of social workers. 

In his remarks at the elaborate Chanukah celebration/dedication, Mr. Safra paid tribute to his mother and her legacy of caring for the needy in Lebanon. “I have seen how Ten Yad started, and how it has developed and grown inspired by the values of Judaism, and I am proud to be part of its expansion," he stated.