By Marcus M. Gilban (JTA) – Brazil’s largest Jewish day school has raised $1.1 million in donations in a 34-hour campaign blitz to fund scholarships. Liessin exceeded its initial target by 65 percent with contributions from 1,087 donors on Oct. 9 and 10. A growing number of the school’s 1,300 students have their $1,000 monthly school fee wholly or partially funded by scholarships.
“We thank everyone from inside and outside Liessin, including those kids who gathered their allowances and came to donate,” Liessin’s president, Ronaldo Redenschi, said on social media after announcing the tally results. “Everyone who participated has learned that all Jews are responsible for each other.”
Founded in 1945, the school offers classes from kindergarten to high school on three campuses. It is headquartered in Botafogo, Rio’s middle-class neighborhood, which houses several Jewish cultural centers, youth movements and synagogues, including the city’s largest.
“We need strengthened Jewish schools in order to fight against antisemitism and educate more and more children and youths,” said Ary Bergher, president of the Rio Jewish federation and a Liessin alumnus.
The drive was supported by some 100 volunteers and boosted with teaser videos recorded by students, alumni and teachers, as well as Jewish and non-Jewish celebrities on WhatsApp and Facebook.
Although most Brazilian Jews belong to the upper-middle-class, the country’s longtime economic crisis has squeezed family budgets. Jewish day schools may cost nearly twice as much than other non-Jewish private schools, so scholarships have been more and more sought after increasingly. In May, Rio’s only Orthodox Jewish day school, TTH-Barilan, raised some $750,000 in a similar campaign, or 40 percent above the initial target. Last year, all 15 Jewish schools in Sao Paulo gathered $3.6 million in two days with the same goal.
Brazil is home to a 120,000-strong Jewish community, half living in Sao Paulo. In 2017, a record 700 Brazilian Jews moved to Israel, according to The Jewish Agency, most of them seeking a better quality of life, fleeing urban violence and impoverishment.
CAP: Students at the Liessin day school in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during their recent fundraising drive. (Courtesy of Liessin)