Amsterdam in Brazil, Canals and Tolerance

We are not booking many tours on this trip but are getting off the ship to see what we can see.  However, in Recife I wanted to take the “Venice of Brazil” tour, that would take us on a ride through Recife’s canals.

Venice is the wrong city, the tour should be called Amsterdam in Brazil, although, to be honest both are a stretch.  Recife was settled by the Portuguese in the early 1500s.  The Dutch took the city over in the early 1600s.  The Portuguese who continued to live in the city remained in Olinda, a beautiful hillside town about 6 km away.  Last time we were here we visited there and you can read about it in my 2015 cruise blog. ”Oh Linda is not a doo wop song”

But the port, below the hill where Olinda was perched flooded often.  Dutch engineers, saw opportunity in the mangroves and cut canals and built a Dutch style city and at the same time made the port area “more stable.”  Some of the best remaining old Colonial buildings, and some of the finest 18th and 19th century buildings in Recife are along those canals, and some of them are the narrow type of row houses you see in Amsterdam.  But unlike Amsterdam you can look to the left and see old buildings and to the right and see mangroves and tropical birds.  I wanted to see this so we booked a tour. (Pictures from the boat, more text and pics below.)

There is one other remnant of the Dutch in Recife.  When the Dutch took over they issued a declaration of religious tolerance directed to Jews. “…let them not be molested or subject to indignities in their consciousness or their homes.” (From the “local government by-laws of conquered areas which the Portuguese gave to the West India Company” issued in the Hague, October 13, 1629.  (The Dutch were a little less tolerant of Portuguese Catholics.  Up in Olinda they ripped out the baroque fittings of the churches to make fit the more austere Calvinist mold.  The Portuguese restored them 20 years later.)

As a result members of the Sephardic Jewish Community who had taken refuge in Amsterdam after they were expelled from Portugal petitioned to settle in the Dutch colony of Recife and that petition was granted.  That is why the oldest synagogue in the Americas is located in Recife. 

But his resettlement caused some concern for the new Jewish citizens of Dutch Brazil.  They petitioned the chief rabbi of Salonica for advice on how to adjust their colander of prayer for the reversed seasons South of the Equator.

“…and should we pray for rain during the months of Tishrei and Nissan as other Jews do throughout the world, or should we adopt our prayers to the seasons of the year in Brazil?”

Five years ago when we were in Recife the “Sinagoga Kahal Zur Israel” was closed for the Sabot.  This time it was open and, an added bonus, it was air conditioned.  There is an excellent interpretive center on the first floor.  The synagogue is on the second, although according to the docent is it no longer active because the Jewish community has mostly moved from the old town to the suburbs where there is a new synagogue.

The Jewish community was short lived in Recife.  In 1654 the Portuguese came back, renamed the street on which the synagogue sat as “Bom Jesus” a deliberate insult, and started to persecute the Jews, forcing conversion.  The congregation prayed for deliverance and it came in the form of two ships which carried to Jewish population to other Dutch colonies, most notably New Amsterdam, where the second synagogue was established in the Americas.  This was the beginning of New York’s Jewish Community.

We got back on the ship in time for me to swim a few laps and then stand by the pool to watch the sun sink behind Recife and Recife sink below the horizon.  From my position the sun looked like it was going down between two goalposts, skyscrapers on the Recife skyline just behind the old city.  Goodnight Recife.

A second post from Recife is here now!

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