Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of City Shul, Toronto, met our community in 2010 while touring Guatemala with a friend. She had requested to spend a Kabbalat Shabbat with a Reform community, and that meant us. We met her and learned a great deal from being with her.
We had already had conversion certificates but learned they were not valid for the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), the organization that we wanted to become part of. After some conversations, Rabbi Goldstein offered to make arrangements to give us the opportunity of being recognized as Jews. Of course, we followed all the steps to achieve this. Rabbi Elyse came back to Guatemala with a Beit Din and we passed all the exams and the mikveh process. Twenty people formed the first group of converts in 2012 and 4 more in 2013. Some of us got married again, under a chuppah. In September 2012, WUPJ accepted us among their communities. That makes us the representatives in Guatemala of Reform Judaism. In 2017 we started a new group of 10 people studying under Rabbi Elyse’s instructions. They have been studying with Rabbi Roberto Graetz, former rabbi of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, California who has since retired.
As the words “ledor va’dor” state, “from generation to generation,” so we are proud that one of our kids, my daughter, Rebeca Orantes, now a young woman of 21, is considering becoming a rabbi. We know she needs to surpass a lot of obstacles, but we hope it could become a reality one day.
We have had many opportunities to increase our knowledge about Judaism, and that has made us more responsible, and our community even more committed. Some of our members have attended special events in Porto Alegre, and Mr. Santiago Castañeda went to attend a Chazzanim special course. Also, members of Adat Israel have attended WUPJ biennials in Orlando and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with help from Rabbi Elyse, Kulanu, and special friends. Two of our members attended a special young adult camp at Brandeis Collegiate Institute held near Los Angeles, California.
As if the big gift of becoming Jews wasn’t enough, we also have received a beautiful Judaica that helps us to comply with the mitzvot for Shabbat, Pesach, Chanukah, and more. We have received boxes of matzah that we cannot obtain easily in Guatemala, but the most important gift is our Sefer Torah. As everything that happens to Adat Israel seems miraculous, this gift of a Torah is not the exception. There was a community in Pine Bluff, Arkansas that sadly closed its doors. They had two Sifrei Torah in their Aron Hakodesh. The board of directors contacted the authorities of the World Union for Progressive Judaism asking what they could suggest they do with them. They agreed to send one to Israel and the other one to ADAT ISRAEL in Guatemala!!! of course with Rabbi Elyse’s intervention. We felt very happy and we prepared everything to receive such a big gift. Rabbi Elyse came with Rabbi Joseph Edelheit representing WUPJ, Rabbi Gene Levy from Arkansas, and Karen Kahn Weinberg and her husband Dan, a wonderful couple from the Synagogue donating the Torah. We spent a beautiful Shabbat time with all of them. In this last Simcha Torah, we all danced with it. In 2015 one of our members, Mrs. Iris Medina decided to make Aliyah to Israel. Rabbi Elyse gave her a lot of help and now she is living in Quiriat Gat in Israel. Every time she goes to the Kotel, she adds a little paper asking for blessings for Adat Israel in Guatemala.
Kulanu has been central is helping us achieve these goals, in sponsoring us to go to conventions, in sending us rabbinic interns like Margo Hughes-Robinson of the Jewish Theological Seminary who taught us deeply over the summer, in helping to fund our online courses, in helping to fund rabbis to come for conversions, in sending our young people to have amazing experiences. We could not do so much of what we do without Kulanu’s strong support. We still need to grow, but we are confident that with everything that has happened to us, we will have the opportunity and the blessing to become a great reform synagogue to receive all our Jewish families around the world.
by Jeannette Orantes
Photos and Videos from Guatemala:
- ONLINE SPEAKER SERIES: Reform Conversions and Beyond: Growing a Jewish Community in Guatemala
- The New Jews of Guatemala by Jeff Cipro (2019)
- Rosh Hashanah Photos by Rabbi Elliot Baskin (2017)
- Global Teaching Fellow Visit by Margot Hughes Robinson (2017)
Articles and Links
- Guatemala: Adat Israel Ushers in 5778 with Altitude Rabbi Eliot J. Baskin (2017)
- Teaching Fellows: Reflections from Guatemala Margo Hughes-Robinson, Kulanu Teaching Fellow from Jewish Theological Seminary, New York City (2017)
- Kulanu in Guatemala Jeannette Orantes (2016)
- The Tzidkaniot: Righteous Women of Kulanu Communities Bonita Sussman (2016)
- The BCI – Kulanu Partnership: A Source of Learning, Joy, and Power Rabbi Barbara Aiello (2016)
- A Guatemalan Love Story Rabbi Elyse Goldstein (2013)
- Asociacion Judia Reformista de Guatemala: Adat Israel (formerly known as Casa Hillel)
- Har Carmel in Guatemala: Rebuilding and Growing a Central American Jewish Community Jeffrey M. Freedman