RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — The death of Henry Sobel, Brazil’s iconic rabbi and human rights activist, was mourned by Jewish and non-Jewish groups across Latin America’s largest nation.
The charismatic 75-year-old spiritual leader died Friday of lung cancer in a Miami hospital. Sobel made history by challenging Brazil’s military regime in 1975 when he refused to bury journalist Vladimir Herzog at the Jewish cemetery’s suicides wing, rejecting the official version that he had hanged himself.
“Breaking protocols of Judaism, facing resistance within the Jewish community, Sobel was one of the protagonists who paved the way for the end of dictatorship in Brazil, one of the great heroes,” said Herzog’s son, Ivo, about the rabbi, who later joined an interfaith act in honor of Herzog, putting his own life at risk.
“The mission of us Jews is not to make the world more Jewish, but rather to make it more human,” was one of Sobel most famous quotes.
Born in Lisbon to a family of Polish immigrants during their escape path to the United States, Sobel eventually studied to become a Reform rabbi in New York. He arrived in Brazil in 1970 and took the helm of Congregacao Israelita Paulista synagogue, which he helped become the largest Jewish congregation in Latin America with 2,000 families.
Sobel’s death drew widespread media coverage across the nation.