US-born Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein completed a two-week tour of Brazil’s mega churches to raise money to bring local Jews to Israel.
On Monday, a day ahead of his departure from Brazil, Eckstein told JTA that his Jewish-Christian group will help hundreds of Brazilian Jews make aliyah, or immigrate to Israel, this year. His tour was also designed to drum up support for Israel among Brazilian evangelicals.
In an email, Eckstein said his group, the Jerusalem-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, will help encourage as many as 850 Brazilian Jews to move to Israel by the end of 2016.
In Brazil, Eckstein addressed churches with up to 5,000 members, part of Brazil’s rising evangelical population of nearly 50 million people — the second largest in the world behind the United States.
Last year, Eckstein met Brazil’s current president and then-vice president, Michel Temer. The official praised the visit, saying “Brazil is a global reference of harmony among religions.” Jewish officials also attended that meeting.
“Brazil’s Christian community feels biblically connected to Israel and is hungry to learn about the Jewish roots of their faith,” Eckstein said. “They want to go to Israel and visit the Biblical sites they have read about.”
He sees Brazil’s Christian community as natural allies for Israel, “a potential new front for Christian Zionism, a bulwark against intensifying anti-Semitism and Israel’s growing political isolation.”
A Brazilian-born Israeli envoy for the fellowship last week met with tens of potential olim in both Sao Paulo and Rio, and told them about financial packages they could be awarded by the group when making aliyah.