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:
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?