Brazilian beach town a haven for Israelis

ARRAIAL D'AJUDA, Brazil — You sit at a chair in an Internet cafe and find yourself before a Microsoft Windows screen in Hebrew.

You take a glance at the computers to your sides and find the same.

Welcome to Arraial D'Ajuda — Brazil's most Israeli town.

The town, on the southern coast of the northeastern state of Bahia, has just 10,000 inhabitants, but receives some 300,000 tourists every summer.

It also gets crowds of Israeli tourists, mainly during Carnival, which was held last month.

The unpaved streets of the town are lined with small, rustic inns and charming restaurants that blend perfectly with the town's carefree ambience. It's as easy to find Japanese sushi as it is to sample one of Bahia's famous seafood stews, known as moquecas.

You'll also find juicy falafel and hummus. And you won't have to learn Portuguese to ask a local for information: Signs in Hebrew are spread all over the town, whether for falafel stands, water-pipe rooms, restaurants or sightseeing tours.

This tropical paradise was discovered in the early 1970s by a post-Woodstock generation of hippies who had traveled the world and found in Arraial an alternative way of living.

Today they own the inns that are so common in town, many of them built as extensions of the owners' homes.

Most Israeli tourists seem comfortable with the daily routine: Shops open only at the end of the afternoon and close at about midnight.

People dress informally, and it's not unusual to go shopping in a bikini or even to a nightclub in swim wear.

Lunch in Arraial feels a lot like dinner, and when you think the town is settling down for the night, the festivities are in fact beginning, with luaus on the beach and dancing until the early hours of the morning.

A pedestrian district known as Broadway features many bars and restaurants where tables are set up on the sidewalk.

Israeli hotelier Asaf Kfir, 25, came to Brazil in July 2002 for what he thought would be a month-long vacation.

But he stayed on and eventually he opened a restaurant in Arraial called Ashkara, which has become a kind of information center and central meeting point for Israeli tourists.

Kfir has traveled throughout Brazil and keeps several travel guides, books and magazines in the restaurant.

He listed the major Israeli interests in Bahia state: "Beautiful landscape, beaches and women. Secondly, the several parties," he said.

Standing on the porch of Ashkara, Kfir's Brazilian Jewish girlfriend, Glauce Brit points out who is Israeli and who is not:

"It's easy to recognize. Just look at their feet and check the typical rubber sandals tied by stripes," she says.