An exemplary family that never gave up. Tribulations of 4 (or 5) conversion processes

Translated from the post at:

Jack Goldstein writes :

Today’s topic reaches deep into my soul and exemplifies the reasons why, together with my friend David Behar, we have dedicated sweat and tears for years to achieve a solution to the core of the so-called “emerging”.

 It seems right  to me that conversion to Judaism is not a simple and quick act of submission to a tradition, or the brief recitation of magic words.  Judaism, as we understand it, is a religion, but there are also traditions and idiosyncrasies, it is to assume the weight of history and the conception of a common future as a people.  But the processes of conversion have changed a lot over the millennia, no matter how hard our rabbis try to convince us that halacha is and has been  unchanged from the beginning.  Even if we accept that these regulations are being adapted to the circumstances, we have long stopped considering regulations for group conversions, for families or entire communities, as the Maccabees, among others, did at the time.

 The world of today has surprised us with the cases of Falashas, ​​Subotniks, lost tribes, and for the Colombian case, that of what we have here called (mistakenly capable) “Emerging Communities”.  Their circumstances are unique and complex, and there are no clear rules to deal with them properly, neither in the Rabbinate nor in Israel.  At stake is the identity, honor and family ties of thousands of people today.  That is why, in conviction of the greatness of mitzvot like those of loving the proselyte and loving your neighbor as yourself, and the understanding of our historical stories such as the Exodus from Egypt, of Ruth and Naomi that I consider correct and halachic  work for this cause.

 The story that follows is a moving story that should invite us to seek adequate, honorable and clear solutions for so many people who are in legal, religious and community limbo.  We have before us an historic challenge of knowing how to correctly assist the many who want to integrate or reintegrate into the Jewish people.

 By David Behar.  June 27, 2020

 Next, I am going to start the story of the Maldonado-Barrera family,  that went a very long way to get to where their hearts guided them.  It was a long,winding and bumpy road. The satisfaction for each conquest they made in the process of adopting our Jewish religion was celebrated with immense joy, but equally their disappointments caused great unease.

 Throughout the last years, both my friend Jack Goldstein and myself have been asked various questions about those who wish to be members of  our religion.  For this reason, I invite you to read this story carefully (in the words of its protagonist, in bold and italicized), which I am sure will clarify many of your questions.  Some names will be omitted in this account.

 “On the righteous and the pious, on the remnant of Your people Israel, on their elders and on the remnant of their sages, on the sincere converts and on us, that Your mercy, O Eternal God, please be moved.  And grant a good reward to all who truly trust in Your Name

 “My wife, Obeida Barrera Salgado (Rivka) and I, Jaime Maldonado Acosta (Chaim), come from non-practicing Christian Catholics families.  From the beginning of our relationship, we agreed on the belief in one true God, the God of Israel.  Our religion never had a relevant influence on both of us.  Therefore, in 1991, we contracted only civil marriage.

 As there was no Jewish community in Cartagena, and because we did not know how to approach any constituted community, we decided to investigate the Hebrew roots in the evangelical Christian faith that was within our reach.  At that point in our life, we wanted to find the truth about our existence and purposes, we had deep philosophical and spiritual concerns.

 From that moment, in a self-taught way, we proceeded to study  the five books of Moses and the prophets. We discovered the commandments, the festivals, the foods and that this story was the story of a “people”  and not from a “church”.  This brought us enlightenment and an indescribable desire to belong to it.  This caused us to be expelled from different congregations on several occasions.

 In that quest, we became so intertwined with the principles of the Torah and with Eretz Israel, that we no longer settled for learning about religion, but also extended our curiosity towards the culture and history of this ancient people.

 In 1999, eight years after our tireless search, when we already had our children Jaimito (Mordechai) and Lina (Rajel), and Obeidita (Shoshana) was about to be born, we made the firm decision that we wanted to be part of Am Israel, us and our offspring forever.  On our own, and thanks to the expansion of the internet, we were able to search pages that would help us.  We acquired Sidurim Birkat Shlomo, a Kitzur from the Shuljan Aruj, the Pirkeh Avot, information that began to forge our identity and knowledge.

 As we felt alone, we managed to contact other couples with the same interests and formed a small kehila.  At that point we knew clearly that we had to agree to a halachicly correct conversion in order to be part of the people.

 In the year 2000, six families joined us and with enormous personal effort, we built, brick by brick, a small synagogue.  You cannot imagine the degree of happiness that it’s inauguration brought us.  We really felt close to Hashem.

 It is at this time and in this synagogue that for the first time a community of converts and several families of Jews of maternal heritage came together to supply the lack of a temple to pray.  This contact served to enrich the knowledge of the new Jews and from where our urgent need arose to guide this community towards a guiur (to adopt Judaism as a way of life) that met their expectations.  Hence, due to my ignorance on the subject, I left for Israel to contact Shavei Israel (, organization in charge of bringing the descendants of Jews to the state of Israel).  From this point on, things would change with them.

 “In 2004, due to our ignorance and innocence, we made our first failed giur.  Little time passed between our joy and the disappointment of knowing that we had been deceived.  Thus, without knowing which doors to knock on, we continued trying to achieve a valid conversion.

 In 2011 we proceeded to formalize our second giur with great financial effort and the second celebration of our religious marriage with a recognized rabbi, but who did not provide enough information regarding our possibilities of belonging to traditional communities and being able to dream of making aliyot to Israel.  (It was our second big disappointment) ”.

 “In August 2016, we achieved a new conversion sponsored by Shavei Israel and with a recognized Beit Din.  It was our third conversion and third marriage. Immediately, we started the management for the aliyot but, after a year, we did not have a concrete answer to our requests.  Here we definitely understood that after 18 unsuccessful years of struggling to reach Eretz Israel as a family group, we should focus from that moment on working individually with each member of our family.

 With the help of Rabbi Marcelo Yeoshuah, the possibility of sending the youngest of our daughters to the Midreshet Lindenbaum arose.  This is how our dreams began to materialize, sending Shoshana to Jerusalem in August 2017 (Elul 5777), while Rajel completed his studies in Chemical Engineering.  To complete the payment of the monthly installments, we hoped to have a scholarship from MASA  (the body in charge of various types of aid to students of intermediate ages) but that did not materialize, so Shoshana could only complete one semester in Midrasha and not the full year as was her wish and she returns to Cartagena.

 In August 2019 (Av 5779), Rajel and Shoshana leave to start studies at the Midrasha Majón Orá in Jerusalem, where they will stay until January 2021. As their intention is to achieve permanent residence in Israel, they obtain their first interview with the Rabanut (this lasted almost two hours, because the rabbis were really intrigued by everything that had happened with our family).

 With part of the objective already underway with our daughters and with the hope that in the near future other members of the family will be able to emigrate, our community solitude was left in the pipeline and knowing that a Lubavitch House had just opened in Cartagena.  We request our entry, receiving in response (which we understood), that only with conversions protected and certified by them or the Rabanut we could be accepted.

 With enormous effort and with a rabbinical guide my wife and son Mordechai and I flew to the United States with the reservation of our heritage. We managed to make our fourth conversion and our fourth religious marriage.

 Arriving and belonging to the Lubavitch community seemed surreal to us and being able to celebrate the holidays  we dreamt of all our lives was difficult to explain. Those who knew us and witnessed our walk, cried with joy along with us. Few situations in my life moved me as much as being able to finally complete a minyan in a community that we could call our own.

 Finally, we are currently still struggling to send our son to Israel for a yeshivah. With our three children being in Israel, we will begin the steps for us parents (It is very possible that in Israel we must validate our conversion and marriage, before the Rabanut, for the fifth time) ”.

 Our story is unfortunately not unique and replicated many times in our country. There are no simple solutions for those who want to belong to our people and even when they belong we make them feel that they will always have to climb one more rung to reach a “Halachic Perfection”;  not to mention fulfill the wishes of living in our state.

 It is not my intention to criticize the modus operandi of the treatment given to those who want to access our identity, but after reading this article, do you not feel that we can show a greater interest in smoothing the path that so many want to follow?

 Let us remember in the Amidah: “On the righteous and the pious, on the remnant of Your people Israel, on their elders and on the remnant of their sages. On the sincere converts and on us, please be moved by Your mercy, O Eternal  Our God. And give a good reward to all who truly trust in Your Name. “

 Sharing with the Maldonado-Barrera has been a very emotional experience for me.  The satisfaction I see on their faces is so great and their philosophy of life is so beautiful around everything that has to do with our religion and, surprisingly, without the slightest hint of resentment, that for this reason I follow their teachings day by day.  I can assure you that I have learned much more from them than they have learned from me.

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