How a Group of American Jewish Expatriates in Central Mexico Came to Be a Magnet for Conversions

Established officially in 2007, the Conservative congregation in the central Mexican city of San Miguel de Allende originally consisted of American and Canadian expatriates, many of whom were retirees. Then its demographic makeup began to change, as Roslyn Bernstein writes:

Mexicans showed up. First, it was one fellow from nearby Queretaro. Later, it was Mexicans who failed to get the answers they wanted from the Catholic Church and became interested in Judaism—only a minority of whom believed that they had Jewish blood. With the help of Rabbi Juan Mejia, himself a convert from Colombia, [its founder], Dan Lessner, began offering comprehensive conversion classes, in person and online, graduating the first group of six students in 2011.

Since then, nearly 70 people have graduated from the congregation’s conversion classes. This March alone, 24 converts graduated—twice as many as any previous year’s cohort—and a recent convert is now leading the congregation. . . .

Mejia’s day job is as the head of a Hebrew school in Oklahoma, but he considers his pro-bono work with converts as his “rabbinic mission.” Raised in Bogota and educated at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, he believes that his work with “emerging communities,” a phrase that he says he coined, is the future for Jews in Latin America. . . .

Mejia has set a high bar for San Miguel’s conversion program, meeting all potential converts face-to-face before they are admitted, and requiring them to participate in hundreds of hours of video and live classes for two years. Although he has worked in several communities, . . . San Miguel has been different, he said, because there is a learned leadership there. . . . One basic rule for the conversion classes is not to convert people from outside the Central Plains of Mexico. “They have to be members,” . . . of the congregation, said Lessner.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Conservative Judaism, Conversion, Judaism, Latin America, Mexico

 

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf