Andre Tarraf Brazil/Florida
Why Are You Committed to a Jewish Future?
L’dor V’dor – from generation to generation. I want my nieces and nephews to have the opportunities that I didn’t, and to keep the Jewish values and faith that have been passed down for generations. Without the commitment of generations before me, I wouldn’t even be here to sit in my great-grandfather’s chair. I’d like my future children or grandchildren to have the opportunity to sit in that chair as well.
We are always looking forward despite any adversity. If we don’t do it, then who will do it for us?
What Is Your Jewish Story?
My grandparents fled Lebanon in the 1910s. They departed on the first boat leaving Beirut that was headed to “the Americas”. Upon arrival, they realized the landing port looked nothing like Ellis Island in New York, where they thought they were headed. It turned out that “the Americas” meant South America, specifically Brazil.
After arriving in Brazil, they hopped onto a train and when the train stopped in San Jose de Rio Preto, hundreds of miles from the Atlantic Ocean, so did they. They began their life in Brazil by selling buttons, rope and tools, and eventually turned it into a cattle business.
Our family eventually expanded into the auto parts distribution, construction, and banking industries in Brazil. When a cousin was kidnapped in 1998, my parents moved our family to the United States.
I grew up along Florida’s “Treasure Coast”, and wanted to support Jewish life there. I saw an opportunity to bring together Jewish communities from several adjacent counties, and with the help of local rabbis I worked with, and the support of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), we established the Treasure Coast Jewish Federation. A personal highlight was launching the Treasure Coast Jewish Film Festival, which brought congregations from across the coast together to discuss Jewish culture through film.
Today, I am fortunate to be involved in many Jewish organizations and to have a family foundation which supports Jewish life in Brazil, the United States, and across the world.
What’s it like being Jewish in Brazil?
Jews make up less than 1% of Brazil’s population. I had no antisemitic experiences growing up there, but it felt strange to be different in a nation that was 98% Roman Catholic. That’s why it was so important to be involved in helping to found Sao Paulo’s first Moishe House, a global program creating communal spaces for Jewish young adults in major cities.
I’m very hands-on in my involvement because I want to see the programs. I want to be there. I don’t want to just write a check. Just like in the construction business, there’s a certain magic to laying the first brick on the floor and building from the ground up.
Even as my parents move back to Florida full-time, I will keep the faith. I will still split my time between the U.S. and Brazil, and keep carrying the torch until someone else carries the torch for me.
Andre Tarraf is the President of the Treasure Coast Jewish Federation in Stuart, Florida, and spends his time between the United States and Brazil. He is also a member of the JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet, and is involved with the Jewish Agency for Israel, Moishe House, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).