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

April 24 2019

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

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship