RECIFE, Brazil (AP) — A short walk from the World Cup Fan Fest site in a neighborhood known as “Recife Antiga,” or “Old Recife,” is a cobblestone street called Rua do Bom Jesus.
In the middle of the block is a two-story, tan-painted stucco building with arched windows and doors that has been an attraction for those interested in religious history — Jewish history, in particular.
The building sits upon the ruins of what is widely accepted to have been the first synagogue built in the Americas.
In fact, the first Jewish community in New York was comprised of the same people who prayed at Kahal Zur Israel, near the port of Recife, in the first half of the 1600s, but who were forced out when Portuguese colonists retook power in the area from the Dutch (and changed the name of the street once called Roa dos Judeus.)
The building is now a Jewish memorial and cultural center. It was restored to look much as the synagogue would have when it was the center of Jewish life in Recife. The restoration also includes viewing areas of ruins discovered below ground level, including a ritual bath called a mikvah.
Recife was initially settled by the Portuguese in the 1530s, but the Dutch invaded in 1630 and ruled the region for 24 years. It was during this period that Jews who had previously settled in Amsterdam, many of them of Portuguese descent, began moving to Recife for business and religious purposes.