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Christians in Manaus pray to the 'Jewish saint'

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 21, 2014 at 12:14 pm •  Published: June 21, 2014

MANAUS, Brazil (AP) — Deep in the Amazon rainforest, but right in the middle of the jungle region's biggest city, lies the final resting place of the "Jewish saint."

Yes, that's right. Rabbi Shalom Imanuel Muyal, who died of yellow fever in 1910, is still revered by Christians in Manaus as the "santo Judeu." Or, more simply, "o rabino."

A paradox it may be, giving a rabbi such a lofty religious title reserved for only Christian luminaries, but the unofficial accolade is something both the Catholics and Jews in the area have come to accept.

"The Jewish community never considered him a saint," said Anne Benchimol, the former president of the Jewish community in Manaus and now its director of education. "But the whole Christian community started going there (to his gravesite) and treating him as a saint."

Local Christians in the Amazonian city have made it a tradition to turn up at Muyal's burial spot in the Saint John the Baptist Cemetery to pray for miracles. When their prayers are answered, they put up small signs of thanks.

Today, there are dozens of those signs on the small walls surrounding the tomb.

"Many people still come and visit the grave," said Nailza de Castro, who works at the administration office in the cemetery. "Both Jews and Christians."

No one, however, has come to pray for a Brazilian victory at the World Cup. Not yet, anyway.

"I haven't seen that," de Castro said. "And, in my opinion, I don't think I will."

The city of Manaus, population 1.8 million, has a tightly-knit Jewish community of about 850 people. These days, there is a synagogue in the center of the city, but there certainly wasn't much around when Muyal first came to town in the early 1900s.

Manaus began its existence as a Portuguese fort, founded in the late 17th century on the spot where the Rio Negro flows into the Amazon River, the planet's largest river by volume. The city blossomed during the rubber boom of the late 1800s, and that's about the time Jews from Morocco started making their way to the jungle. To support the growing community, Muyal was sent from Morocco to serve as a rabbi.

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