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The World

The Bezerra Family
The Bezerra Family
Tonight is the second night of Hanukkah. And Jewish families are continuing their celebrations. We're going to meet one Jewish family who celebrates with music. The Bezerras live in Nashua, New Hampshire. But their music has a touch of bossa nova to it. That's because the Bezerras came to this country from Brazil. And, as reporter Av Harris tells us, the Bezerras haven't stopped moving or singing.

One of the most ubiquitous Jewish prayers is the shehechiyanu. The prayer is said on the first night of Hannukah, among other holidays. It's a thank you to the almighty for allowing us to live, for sustaining us, and for bringing us to this time. The members of the Bezerra family sing the shehechiyanu in 5-part harmony.

Yosef Bezerra and his wife Hadassah, grew up in musical families in Recife. Their religious lives consisted of little more than occasional trips to church. But Yosef Bezerra says there were certain practices in his childhood that he knew even then had nothing to do with Christianity.

Yosef Bezerra: "The way that my mother killed the chicken, and put the blood out - completely out. And I helped her to do this so many times. We didn't eat pork in my home with my mom. And the other thing is, for example, in Hadassah's family, when someone died, they covered the TV sets, and the mirrors, and get seven days mourning, things like that."

It was only when Yosef and Hadassah Bezerra married that they started to discover that these traditions were ancient Jewish rituals. So they started to dig up their family's roots. Yosef learned that his ancestors fled to Brazil to escape the Spanish inquisition.

Yosef Bezerra: "And they changed their name, totally, to be hidden in Brazil. They founded a new city in the place that's in our state. They were the rich people in the cane sugar in my state. That was the usual activity for the new Christians that went to Brazil."

That new city, Recife, also housed the first synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Fast forward 500 years, though, and few Jews remained there. When Yosef and Hadassah Bezerra decided to embrace their newfound Jewish Heritage, they also decided to emigrate to a place where they could find an active Jewish community. They first moved to Orlando Florida.

The Bezerras became active in a local synagogue in Orlando - they were often asked to sing for the congregants. So they put traditional Jewish songs to Brazilian melodies and even Brazilian rhythms.

This is Dreidel Dreidel. It's about the spinning top children play with during Hanukah. But even Jews who grew up singing Dreidel Dreidel probably never heard it like this.

Yosef Bezerra: "Many of the songs we sing are arrangements that already exist. But then we interpret it our way."

Levi is one of the Bezzera's sons.

Levi Bezerra: "I guess it has the Brazilian, the Latin thing to it sometimes. Even the Dreidel song that I arranged. I thought the Dreidel song could have had a little spicing up. So I wrote it in a Bassa Nova way. If it's different, then it's different, yes. And we like it. And it was a bonus to know that other people like to hear us."

The Bezerra family moved onto Nashua, New Hampshire and sang in the local synagogue there. One of the prayers the rabbi asked them to sing often during the weekly Shabbat service was the Misheberach prayer for healing. Levi Bezerra says it was this song that made him realize the power of his family's music.

Levi Bezerra: "Some people actually came to me and said 'Wow, you know, I was feeling sick the other day. And every time you sing that song, every time it came to my mind, that Misheberach song, it helped me get through whatever I was going through.' And that's what I hoped, you know? We sing that song, you know in my mind I hope that every single musical note is touching people and bringing healing to their bodies, their minds, and whoever they're praying for."

Levi's younger brother Shmu'el does most of the arrangements. He's especially proud of the way listeners respond to his adaptation of one of the oldest Hebrew prayers for peace, Oseh shalom.

Shmu'el Bezerra: "If it's giving you goose bumps, it's because the song is working. And I made it in a way that it's like very peaceful. The way I write things, I like the notes to take their time. And if they don't have a resolution right then, they'll have a resolution at the end."

Now, the Bezerra family is emigrating again. This time, the Bezerras are moving to Israel. Their sons, Levi and Shmu'el, and daughter Ruti will serve in the Israeli military. They all will continue to sing. Hadassah Bezerra says music will always be a vital part of her family's life.

"When we sing Oseh Shalom, my prayer everyday is for peace in Jerusalem, peace in Israel, and peace in every family and person. This music is very heartfelt for my family, and I hope that everyone who is able to hear us is touched by it too."

For the World, I'm Av Harris.