The Jewish Story of the Rio Olympics

09/12/2020

Did you know that three of the organizers of the 2016 Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro came from Rio's Jewish community?

Carlos Arthur Nuzman, President of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee.

Sport has historically been an integral part of Jews integration to South American societies. As amateur and professional athletes and coaches, and as heads of regional and national sport institutions, Jews have proudly represented their countries at an international level in Maccabi games and in the world stage at large.

A very clear example of the symbiosis between Jews and sports in South America can be found in the network of "Hebraica" social and sport clubs all across the continent.

More specifically, in Brazil we can find a recent example of this involvement during the last Olympics games. Carlos Arthur Nuzman, a Brazilian sports star, who served as president of the 2016 Olympics Organizing Committee, began his volleyball career as a child, at the Brazilian Israelite Club and attended four Maccabi games in Israel over the years. Before the start of the 2016 Olympics he was quoted saying, "My connection with Judaism and with Israel is through sports."

Born in Rio, Nuzman is an active member of the community's conservative synagogue Congregacao Judaica do Brasil. His nephew, Rabbi Nilton Bonder, leads the 440 family member congregation. Nuzman's father was the head of the Rio Jewish Federation, the Hebraica Club and the local Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal-clearly, his family is an involved part of the Rio Jewish community.

Nuzman was assisted by fellow local Jews Sidney Levy, a Brazilian businessman who was the Olympic committee's CEO, and Leonardo Gryner, a communications and marketing director, who worked as the deputy CEO of the committee.

These three men were also involved in the planning of the first Olympics ceremony to mark the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. The ceremony was held at Rio's city hall and was co-led by the International Olympics Committee, and the Olympic committees of Israel and Brazil.

In addition to the role these members of the local Jewish community played during the Rio Olympics, Rio's synagogues and Jewish organizations also contributed to making sure Jewish visitors at the Olympics felt welcomed. Jewish visitors and competing athletes were provided with kosher food and Shabbat services.

In 2015, the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue and Community Center opened in a neighborhood of Rio. Taking up four floors and a space of 20,000 square feet, the institution took into consideration its ability to cater to Jewish visitors during the Olympics, when planning the opening of the synagogue and center.

By Madison Jackson