10 years ago, a viral Brazilian bar mitzvah video became a club hit

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JTA — The approximately 120,000 Jews who live in Brazil make up less than one percent of the country’s total population of about 214 million people.

But today, according to Marcio Bellora Saraceni, a 29-year-old lawyer from Rio de Janeiro, “all of Brazil knows” the name of Nissim Ourfali – a bar mitzvah boy who became one of the country’s first viral memes. 10 years ago.

Footage of the 13-year-old playing video games, wrapping speech bubbles and even standing on top of a whale (a nod to a beach called ‘Whale’ near São Paulo) has all been collected in this video which originally played on a big screen at the Urfali bar mitzvah in 2012. To the music of British boy band One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” Urfali sings new lyrics about his Jewishness and his love for his family (and Israel), in a very sheepish way.

According to the Estadão newspaper, the family posted the video online so that it could later be viewed by friends and family. They hadn’t expected the video to hit two million views in less than a year and explode into various areas of Brazilian pop culture.

According to a 2020 podcast interview with Noemy Lobel, who produced the video for the Ourfali family, the video became the subject of one of the world’s top 10 tweets just days after it was first posted. The song quickly became a favorite at house parties and nightclubs across the country.

“I remember being in middle school when the video first came out and my friends and I were singing it together all the time,” Bellora Saraceni said. “Every time the original One Direction song played, everyone sang Nissim’s version.”

The fame spread far beyond the Jewish community. “Jew or non-Jew, everyone knows Nissim Ourfali,” said André Liberman, a 22-year-old law student and progressive Jewish activist in Recife.

But this unexpected fame came with obstacles: the family suffered anti-Semitic attacks online and received death threats while their son’s name and Jewish identity became part of the public discourse.

In 2012, the family filed a lawsuit in a Brazilian court, asking for the video to be taken down. Judge Arthurs Wady ordered the deletion of some of the videos, including the original. But two years later, Wady ruled that he could not force Google, the owner of YouTube, to remove all videos mentioning Ourfali – they had been copied and broadcast in countless untrackable versions. The family appealed the decision, and in 2016 a state court ordered Google Brasil to remove as many videos as possible. Despite this decision, the video is still widely available in various forms on the Internet.

Little is known about Urfali’s life 10 years after his shocking rise to internet dominance. According to Brazilian website Aventuras na Historia, he does not speak publicly about the viral video and does not have public social media accounts. In 2018, right-wing influencer Arthur do Val posted a photo of Ourfali alongside right-wing MP Kim Kataguiri, who in a podcast earlier this year said he was against the criminalization of Nazism in Germany. . Do Val captioned his Instagram post of Ourfali and Kataguiri saying that Ourfali was appreciative of his work.

According to the Além do Meme podcast, Ourfali now lives and works in the United States.

Back in the height of the Urfali craze, in sweat-filled nightclubs dotted with strobe neon lights, Jeff Oliveira, a 34-year-old visual artist and DJ in Rio de Janeiro, was playing both the original remixes and news of Nissim’s song throughout the night course. “Every time I played Nissim’s music people would go crazy,” he said. “First they screamed in surprise, then they sang and danced together.”

Now, however, he’s moved on to newer songs that are more relevant to Brazil’s pulsating internet culture.

“I think memes are always about being used at the right time,” he said. “People felt a connection talking about Nissim all week with friends, colleagues, family and over the weekend the DJ played just that.”

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