reprinted from JTA on May 28, 2009 by Ben Harris:
NEW YORK (JTA) — Of all the rabbis ordained last week at the Jewish Theological Seminary, few have journeys to the rabbinate quite as unlikely as Juan Mejia.
Raised as a Catholic in Colombia and educated at Christian schools, Mejia was on his way to becoming a monk when he discovered as a teenager that his family had Jewish roots. His grandfather would recall men gathering in darkened corners to place towels on their head and pray from a strange book.
After a torturous journey, which involved his rejection by the tiny Jewish community in Bogota and several years of study in Jerusalem, Mejia converted and began training for the rabbinate. Now Mejia is dedicating his rabbinate to helping Jewish descendants like himself who want to reconnect with their roots.
The plight of descendants of Conversos, those Jews forced to publicly recant their religion under threat of execution by the Inquisition but who continued to practice their religion in secret, has received more attention in recent years. Articles describing stories of Latino immigrants who discover their family’s strange rituals are Jewish in origin have appeared in both the Jewish and mainstream press.
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