A little over a year after its creation, Yeshiva Camp, the world’s only summer camp for descendants of forcibly converted Jews, has already had dozens of participants aged 11 to 25. They stay with the Venturas at their spacious synagogue in Sao Paulo, which the couple transform into a youth camp for each new group. “Connecting these youngsters with Judaism is only the beginning,” said Gilberto Ventura, the charismatic rabbi who established, with his wife Jaqueline, Yeshiva Camp as part of their Synagogue Without Borders congregation and outreach project. “What follows is connecting bnei anusim to the rest of Brazilian Jewry and society.”
Most of the activities take place inside the synagogue, a three-story apartment with 10 rooms, two kitchens and at least 5,500 square meters of floor space. Located in Jardim Paulistano, one of Sao Paulo’s most expensive neighborhoods, the Venturas can afford renting it thanks to donations.
Running the camp on a budget of about $5,000 is possible because the Venturas buy food wholesale and participants do their own cooking and cleaning.
“These kids, they have a huge thirst for knowledge,” the 45-year-old rabbi added. “They come from places without Jewish achools. Many of them have no framework.”
Ventura’s journey to the rabbinate took him to Jerusalem, where he studied for his ordination at Yeshivat Mesilot Hatorah, and he still works closely with a former leader of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, Rabbi Haim Amsalem. A bit of an outsider in Brazil’s Jewish community for his outreach and interfaith agendas, he nonetheless works on joint projects with more mainstream Jewish congregations and organizations.
Read more at JTA.