Kansas Rabbi Uses Internet to Bring Latinos to Judaism

Sunday, 19 Jan 2014 09:27 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Kansas City Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn does not actively proselytize, but he is willing to facilitate conversions to Judaism— using long-distance Internet instruction— for Latin Americans who want to become part of the Jewish people, the Religious News Service reported.

Cukierkorn, who is rabbi of Temple Israel, a progressive Jewish Reform congregation based in Overland Park, Kansas, first became interested in Brazilians with Jewish ancestral connections while he was a rabbinical student.

He also has conversion candidates in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Colombia as well as Brazil.

Many Portuguese and Spanish Jews escaped to South America in the 1600s trying to get away from the Catholic Inquisitions. When the Portuguese and Spanish followed the Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or face persecution.

Some of Cukierkorn's converts believe they are the offspring of those Jews.

Using the Internet, the Reform rabbi teaches his students Jewish culture, Hebrew, and religious rituals, such as how to maintain a kosher diet and a kosher kitchen. They also learn how to keep the Sabbath.

A final step in the conversion process is immersion in a body of water for ritual purification.

Last month, Cukierkorn travelled to Brazil in order to perform a conversion ceremony for a group of 15 men and women who completed his course.

Charton Baggio, who lives in Brasilia, had been previously converted by Cukierkorn. "Rabbi Cukierkorn is an inspirational leader and I'm proud to have him as my rabbi. Even though we don't see him physically in person every week his influence here in Brazil and other countries in Latin America has been immense and life-changing."

Charton's wife, Camilla, also converted. She is certain that her ancestors were Jewish. "It has been my dream for years to be part of the people of Israel and it's finally been realized," she said.

All in all, Cukierkorn has converted 200 Latin Americans to Judaism, according to RNS.

Cukierkorn's conversions are not recognized by Judaism's minority but powerful Orthodox branch which insists that prospective converts be approved by an Orthodox rabbinical board and pledge to lead Orthodox life-styles. Nor are the conversions accepted in Israel where only the Orthodox rabbinate is officially sanctioned by the state for purposes of marriage, conversion and divorce.

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