Ticún Brasil: Lending a Hand to Brazil’s Jews (Who Apparently Exist)

Last night, Ticún Brasil, opened a photography exhibit at lower Manhattan’s FB Gallery entitled Orfeu Negro, based (loosely; let’s say “conceptually”) on the 1959 film Black Orpheus. On one side of the exhibit are photos of Brazil’s favelas taken by a young photographer Léo Lima who grew up in the favelas and has gone on to win awards in Brazil and study at one of its best art schools.  On the other side are photos of a naked lady painting herself with a brush… done by a French artist Konstantin Lunarine–who, I was told, happens to be a big fan of Brazil. The juxtaposition of the two was meant to show myth vs. reality. Or some such.

Upstairs showcases the work of children who as part of a Ticún Brasil program learned  about photography from an American volunteer and then were given a camera to go out on their own. The works are impressive not just because they provide physical proof that the children miraculously managed not to have the camera stolen, but also because they show an organic POV of a very different world that isn’t often documented.

Great, you say, but… what’s all this got to do with us Jews?

Good question. The first thing you would have noticed upon entering the exhibit opening is two mellifluous sounds floating and commingling in the air. The first, the danceable (even for Jews) beat of indigenous Brazilian rhythms provided by a live band. The second, the “dulcet tones” of the Russian language provided by live Russian Jews. The place was packed. And I’m not sure if there was a single Brazilian there. (I witnessed a cringeworthy exchange in which one black attendee was asked excitedly if he was Brazilian and then explained apologetically to the very disappointed Russian girl who’d asked that he was, in fact, from New Jersey.)

Ticún Brasil is an organization that hosts trips for young people interested in Jewish volunteering opportunities in Brazil and is administered by Russian Jews Alex Minkin and wife Elena Zavelev. I asked them the very first question that came to my mind: why Brazil exactly? They explained that it is already an sought-after travel destination for Jews, has the 10th highest Jewish population in the world (who knew?), and lacks that certain je ne sais quoi of European anti-Semitism. All in all, not a terrible place to go if you want to help out aging Jews at an old folks home while also soaking up the rays in South America in the middle of North American winter. Admit it, Florida is becoming a little passé.

The exhibition (which ends with a 6-9pm showing on Sunday) is meant on one level to raise money for good causes in Brazil. Mr. Lunarine often donates money from his works to Brazilian causes. But equally importantly to Mr. Minkin, the exhibition hopes to bring attention to Ticún Brasil‘s upcoming (November) volunteering trip. I personally saw him win over at least one recruit while I was there, so it seemed headed for success on both counts.

I headed out a little early–as the party going on next door made it a nearly impossible to hear or be heard, and the packed room made it a nearly impossible to stop sweating like an animal. As I left I thought the whole event reminded me of feelings I’ve had about the Jewish people in general: A little loud and uncomfortable, but very culturally interesting.

What do you think?

About The Author

Samuel Johnson

Sam Johnson was born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but is now an LA-based writer/director/producer. Follow him @smorganjohnson on the twitter.

5 Responses

  1. alissa

    Sort of don’t get it. Brazil is loaded with Jews, and many whom are filthy rich (not saying that is bad), so why do they need our help? This group should target the Jewish community in Brazil to help their own. Americans are the targets for good deeds I presume. We give, give, give, help, help, help. This is wonderful to have as a reputation, but as a Jewish American, I sort of think that people should work on helping their own. Thoughts?

  2. alex

    Hi Alissa, Ticún Brasil aims to link Jewish travelers to local Jews, via volunteering together primarily in the slums (favelas)and informal meetings with local leaders, intellectuals and activists of social justice.

    We make it easier to be actively engaged not just where you live, but where you travel as well.

    The volunteers get to pass on their valuable skills and experiences and to develop new ones. And the residents of the favela communities, young and old, get to learn more about the rest of the world. This exchange of cultures is enriching on both sides. Unlike an ‘ordinary’ traveler, you are interacting with many regular Brazilians outside the tourist industry.

    Most of the community improvement projects are at least 1 month long. But if you only have few hours, you may as well visit Rio’s Home for Jewish Elderly.

  3. LC

    I found the “Who Knew There Were Jews in Brazil?” tone of this piece unpleasant. Does not reflect well on the writer or the editors of this site. How can people who produce content for a site devoted to Jewish themes be so glib (and ignorant) about the 10th largest population of Jews in the world, as this piece notes? Ugh.

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    […] immediacy and honesty of an insider, ”wrote Brazil NYC. Orfeu Negro exhibit ©Alexander Ra “The works are impressive because they show an organic POV of a very different world that isn’t oft…,” concluded Heeb […]


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