City Preserves Jewish Traditions

from the July 25th edition of the newspaper Folha de Sëo Paolo

HERITAGE: Venha Ver founded in 1811 in Rio Grande do Norte still preserves vestiges of its Jewish origins

A little town lost in the interior of Rio Grande do Norte maintains vestiges of the Jewish origins of it population whose founders in 1811 were descendents of New Christians Jews converted to the Christian faith

While still Christian today the inhabitants of Venha Ver (440 km west of Natal) reveal in their everyday habits a unique legacy The majority of the townspeople however have no recollection of their ancestors’ origins

The Folha Agency discovered that the most evident signs pointing to a Jewish tradition in the little city were (1) the placement of crosses arranged in a hexagonal form on the entrance doors of houses; (2) the burial of bodies in a white shroud; and (3) very typical New Christian surnames

The customs of totally removing the blood from animal flesh after slaughter and of placing small stones on graves could also be related to the Jewish heritage of the inhabitants Jews place stones on graves in order to signify that the deceased will not be forgotten In Venha Ver to leave a stone on a tomb signifies that a prayer has been offered for the person buried there

The name of the city itself probably results from a combination of the Portuguese command form of “Come” with the Hebrew term “chaver” (pronounced “ha VER”) which means “friend” or “companion” Thus “Venha Ver” could be a corruption of “Vem Chaver” (Come Friend)

These were some of the clues discussed by Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn in his thesis for his rabbinical degree (equivalent to a Master’s) which dealt with Jewish ancestry among the population of Rio Grande do Norte

The preservation of centuriesold traditions in Venha Ver is facilitated by the isolation of the little town situated as it is in the extreme northwest of Rio Grande do Norte on the borders of Cear< and ParaRba It can be reached only via a thin strip of passable land

For Rabbi Cukierkorn the crosses of Venha Ver have their origin in the mezuzah a little box containing a prayer which Jews place on the lintels of their entrance ways designating divine protection on the house

Many of the crosses have a hexagonal shape like the Star of David symbol of the Jewish faith The villagers explain the hexagonal crosses on their houses as protection against evil the devil ( a ventanRa) or lightning

In this small hamlet bodies are wrapped in shrouds and then carried to the cemetery This is also done in the Jewish tradition

The residents of VenhaVer explain the custom as having been passed down from father to son

Cukierkorn sees the presence of kosher practices in the way animal flesh is treated; dietary rules proscribed by Judaism

After an animal is slaughtered its remains are hung upside down from a tree by a rope so that all blood will drain out of it After this the meat is salted which is also the usual practice among orthodox Jews

The most common surnames within the white population (part of the community which settled later is of black ancestry) are Carvalho Moreira Nogueira Olveira and Pineiro all notably New Christian names

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