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

 

A Better Syria Strategy Can Help Achieve the U.S. Goal of Countering Iran

While the Trump administration has reversed much of its predecessor’s effort to realign Washington with Tehran, and has effectively used sanctions to exert economic pressure on the Islamic Republic, Omar Hassino argues that these measures might not be enough:

Iran and its militias control more territory and natural resources in Syria and Iraq than before President Trump took office. . . . The U.S. should back the low-cost insurgency approach that has already shown potential in southwest Syria to bleed the Iranian forces and increase the costs of their expansion and [of Tehran’s] support for the Assad regime. It makes no sense that Iran can fund low-cost insurgencies to bleed American allies in the region, but the United States cannot counter with the same. The administration should also consider expanding support to the proxy forces that it currently works with—such as the Revolution Commandos near the [U.S.] al-Tanf garrison in southwest Syria—for the purpose of fighting and eliminating Iranian-backed militias. This limited escalation can curb Iranian expansion and put pressure on the Assad regime in the long term.

Furthermore, in this vein, the U.S. should empower peaceful Syrian civil-society groups and local councils operating outside Assad-regime control. Last year, the Trump administration eliminated assistance for stabilization in Syria, including funding going to secular anti-Assad civil-society groups that were also combating al-Qaeda’s ideology, as well as the Syrian [medical and civil-defense group known as] the White Helmets, before quickly [restoring] some of this funding. Yet the funding has still not completely been resumed, and if this administration takes an approach similar to its predecessor’s in relying on regional powers such as Turkey, these powers will instead fund groups aligned ideologically with Muslim Brotherhood. This is already happening in Idlib.

The United States must [also] jettison the Obama-era [strategy of establishing] “de-escalation zones.” These zones were from the start largely a Russian ruse to help the Assad regime conquer opposition areas, and they succeeded. Now that the regime controls most of Syria and Iranian proxies are dominant within the regime side, support for de-escalation is tantamount to support for Iranian expansion. The United States must [instead] prevent further expansion by the Assad regime and Iran in parts of the country that they still do not control.

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More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy