Brazil Jews decry ‘exclusion’ from college entrance exam

A Jewish man in Brazil protesting against Iran in November.

Brazilian Jewish teenagers this week protested what they called their “exclusion” from a national exam for high school graduates set to take place on Shabbat, after a Brazilian court said providing Jews with an alternative date would “undermine equality.”

“In some areas in Brazil, such a Rio de Janeiro, observant Jewish students cannot apply to some of the leading universities,” said Alex Kingel, 17, from Sao Paulo, who will not be taking the test.

Kingel explained that because Rio de Janeiro’s leading university is a federal one – funded by the central government – applicants must take the test, known locally as ENEM. The exam, which is not mandatory, is not necessary for applying to locally-funded state universities.

Simone Janovich, also 17, from Higienopolis, Sao Pualo, said: “If I have to, I will go to college even without taking the ENEM.”

Last week the Brazilian supreme court reversed a ruling by a Sao Paulo court, which determined that the country’s education ministry needed to provide an alternate date for Jews. The test is set for December 5.

The supreme court said Jewish students could take the test after sundown Saturday, calling this a “reasonable” solution. It remains unclear whether Jewish students will be given an extension after sundown.

Supreme court president Gilmar Mendes said giving the Jewish minority an alternative date would harm equality.

“We lost this time but this is not over,” said Alberto Milkewitz, who heads the education department of the Jewish community of Sao Paulo. “I consider this a battle for the defense of democracy.” Milkewitz and the Sao Paulo-based Center for Religious Jewish Education had sought the alternative date. “The minority should not have to bend to the majority and democracy does not mean the two should be homogenized,” he said.


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