15 Years Ago Today, I Survived A Violent Riot In Brazil

Photo of the riot in O Estado De S. Paulo
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I have a soft spot in my heart for Brazil.

I started this website in 2004 while volunteering for a year on bochur shlichus to help learn with kids in a Sao Paulo yeshiva. I started learning for Smicha there. And years later, I found my wife through friends who were in Sao Paulo. Then again it was predestined that all 3 of those things would happen there, but that’s a story for another time.

In 2007 I was 22 and studying for my MBA. A professor invited me to come on a business trip to Brazil, being that I spoke Portuguese and had been there before.

I landed in Sao Paulo on the 16th of Iyar, which is exactly 15 years ago today on the Hebrew calendar. After a quick stop in the Centurion Lounge to freshen up, I hopped in a taxi to go to the Jardins neighborhood where I was being hosted for Shabbos by a family I had made friends with a few years earlier.

But as my taxi drove on the highway past the Favela da Chácara Bela Vista, things took a turn for the worse. Just 15 feet ahead of us, explosives went off and a car was set on fire.

Residents from the slum were protesting an earlier police raid by closing down the highway and setting fire to and throwing objects at cars.

I had a Nextel walkie-talkie that instantly connected me with my mother’s Nextel. It just wasn’t the chirp-chirp she expected when I said said I was scared that this might be good-bye. She was on the phone with JJ when I was busy saying good-byes to my family.

And then a wooden pole came flying towards our car, shattering the windshield.

We couldn’t move forward or backwards, we were sitting ducks.

But like any card-carrying Chabad chosid, she faxed a letter to the Rebbe’s Ohel, asking for a bracha that I should escape unharmed. I huddled down and said Tehilim, along with family praying back home.

Not long afterward, I calmed the driver down and convinced him that we should try driving down the steep bank on the side of the highway. We did it and managed to speed away.

When the police arrived on the scene later, it apparently got even worse, a bomb went off and injured a number of the policemen on the scene.

Front page of the Sao Paulo Newspaper with pictures from the scene:


With G-ds help, we escaped unscathed. But the kavanah I had when bentching HaGomel the next day was surely unrivaled.

The slum was designated for demolition by the country a few months later, though many Brazilians still live in similar slums.

I previously wrote about the story here, the day after it happened. Since then, this website has been visited some 300,000,000 times and has hopefully helped out a few people along the way. I may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and it’s crazy to think about what could have been. But I thank G-d every day for helping me make it through that scare and allowing me to try to make the most of every day since then.

Have you ever had any close calls in your travels?

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23 Comments On "15 Years Ago Today, I Survived A Violent Riot In Brazil"

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You should make a kiddush!


You, Avraham Fried, and Benny Friedman.

I know this may be a random conglomerate for you, but all three of you show how you can be celebrities while remain role models with humility and always rooted in core values of Chassidus. And your opinions always being spot on reflects that.

Much Hatzlacha, in what you better believe it, is a wonderful Shlichus of yours.

Berel from CH

Wow never heard of this story before since I started reading your blog.
(First time I heard from you was when you streamed the Sium Hashas..)
We certainly hope you post some more trip reports, (including that Brazil trip)
Also haven’t done a news roundup in a while..
Would probably lead the roundup..


On a semi related note, especially after your journalism regarting the Luftansa saga, I think you should launch an official DansNews website. We love your raw and informative takes on current events.




Bring back the roundups!




Not exactly travels. But was studying in Israel and somehow got caught in the middle of a protest. Police came flying in on motorcycles and the kid next to me was punched in the face




Think you should also make an app


Your view on events is usually so spot on and informative. We appreciate your seeking out the
Stories that affect our people and exposeing the truths that others may wish to minimize or forget completely.


Why do you know Portuguese?!


I imagine he learned it during his initial year in Brazil


Meron last year…


You were meant to be there and survive to tell the story.
My dad studied in Brazil and I still want to go and explore it, despite the “riots” that always seem to pop up.


I really enjoy your news posts. You should consider making Jewish news outlet. Really informative and straight to the point!


During our honeymoon in the Alps, I experienced a close-call too.
The details of the incident can only be truly grasped by those whom have personally experienced the immenseness of the mountains from close…
We had taken the cable-car up the mountains and were hiking back down.
One part was so steep that a few stone stairs were made. Somehow my wife’s foot slipped and she fell down the steps, slipped under the rope railing, and started sliding head-first to the edge of a cliff! I watched helplessly as she was about to fall to the ground which was no less than 1 mile below! She grabbed onto a few blades of grass and miraculously she stopped slipping about 5 feet before the cliff’s lip. Chasdei Hashem! I’ve mountaineered for many years, but never did I properly understand the meaning of אשא עיני אל ההרים, עזרי מאם השם עושה שמים וארץ, אל יתן למוט רגליך, הנה לא ינום וכו’




a “mostly peaceful” riot, that is


Last time we were in Brazil, specifically Florianopolis about 3 years ago with our 4 year old, I was following google maps which directed me to drive up the hill into the heart of Floripa favela but of course on the map it didnt look like that but my wife (who used to live there and born in state of SC) said we have to leave ASAP. This was during peak afternoon traffic. I didnt want to stop and make a uturn. Ended going up all the way and came down the other side of the hill/mountain which were lined by mansions which was quite interesting and breath taking view from the top. Surprisingly, I found the drive and the favela very clean and good infrastructure and nothing like what you see on TV of Rio/SP or City of God, but then again, this was Floripa.