The 4th Tikkun Olam Seminar – an initiative of the Union of Reform Judaism in Latin America and Tamar, the young adult movement of Netzer Olami of the World Union, in partnership with the organization Aliança Rio Doce and the Unidos pela Vida Institute – brought together 25 young Brazilian Jews from Porto Alegre, Sao Paulo, Rio and Brasilia and architecture students from Espírito Santo to renovate the community center of the indigenous community of Vila do Areal. The village is located within the limits of the municipality of Linhares, also in the state of Espírito Santo.
More than 80 young people from the Brazilian Reform congregations attended the four Tikkun Olam seminars, which aims to help communities affected by the mineral residues from the rupture of the dam of the Samarco mining company in 2015. The dam collapse killed 19 people, destroyed villages, left hundreds homeless, and killed fish and aquatic life as it flowed on down the bigger River Doce to the sea more than 600km away.
In 2016 thirteen participants repaired doors and sinks, cleaned yards, painted walls, hung shelves, planted gardens, organized materials of the village Regência Augusta. The second seminar, in 2017, brought 14 volunteers to build a soccer field for the Areal community which serves as the only recreation and communal space for the tribe, and is used by children, adolescents and adults alike. Last year more than 30 young adults in partnership with the youth movement Habonim Dror, built a community meeting space, playground and volleyball court.
Kelita Cohen, rabbinical student of the IberoAmerican Institute for Reform Rabbinical Education (IIFRR), was invited to attend the 4th seminar to lead debates and the Jewish study sessions as well as the Kabalat Shabbat and Havdalah services. “A significant part of the agenda before my trip was dedicated to prepare themes and materials for the activities. I decided to work with two core values of the Jewish culture with participants: tzedek and chesed. A great injustice had been done – since the dam breach was not a mere accident, but the consequence of irresponsible and even criminal decisions made by Samarco Mining Company managers and executives – which made social justice the driving force of our actions. Until that moment, I had no idea what impact this experience would have on my life”, explained Kelita.
Since the first Tikkun Olam seminar, the Union of Reform Judaism in Latin America assumed taking care of these local communities as part of its social responsibility. “Vila do Areal lost its livelihood, its leisure area and its waters when the mud descended the Rio Doce. We are all Brazilians and human beings affected by the negligence of some businessmen. We are responsible for each other”, said Karin Zingerevitz, Executive Director of UJR – AmLat.
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This activity was made possible by a microgrant from Tamar Olami, the Progressive Jewish young adult platform of the World Union for Progressive Judaism; Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL); and the Zionist Organisation (WZO) supporting educational initiatives among Netzer branches and graduates that enrich their communities and others.