Rio De Janeiro
Rio De JaneiroiStock

A Jewish women’s group called off an exhibition in Rio after a set of paintings by 35 Israeli women – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze – was stolen.

“We are totally overwhelmed. It’s a feeling of powerlessness, a lack of security from all sides,” Silene Balassiano, president of the Brazilian arm of the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), told JTA.

The paintings of the “Women and Their Olive Trees” exhibition, which conveys a message of coexistence and tolerance, disappeared on Wednesday while being transported from Sao Paulo to Rio, Brazil’s two largest cities and home to the largest Jewish communities, a distance of about 250 miles.

“They have traveled around the world and have been seen by hundreds and hundreds of people. They were in the country’s financial heart and did not make their way out due to a theft. It’s shameful to all of us and to all Brazilians,” added Balassiano.

The paintings, which belong to the WIZO Afula Community Center in Israel, had been exhibited in Sao Paulo. A second exhibition was scheduled to open on March 8 to mark International Women’s Day at the Midrash cultural center in Rio, located in Rio’s upscale Leblon neighborhood, across from the local Chabad headquarters.

“Our biggest challenge in Brazil is to overcome the country’s size and distances, and boost volunteering work, a Jewish mitzvah to women of all social, cultural and financial levels,” Balassiano said of WIZO Brazil, founded 90 years ago, seven years after its parent organization.

Local police are investigating. A campaign on social media has been launched to reinforce that “the paintings have no commercial value, but are of inestimable sentimental value.”