Judaism Unbound Episode 57: Becoming Jewish On the Web - Juan Mejia

Juan Mejia, the Southwest/Latin America Regional Director for Be'chol Lashon, [1] who grew up Catholic, converted to Judaism, and became a rabbi, joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about conversion, the growing importance of the internet in contemporary Jewish life, and emergent forms of Judaism arising in Latin America, and what it all might mean for the future of Judaism.

(0:01 - 15:00): Mejia tells the story of his own background, [2] beginning with his journey into Judaism, and going on to describe the events that led him, once Jewish, to choose to become a rabbi. He emphasizes the important role that the internet played in his own journey and the reasons why and ways in which it is proving even more pivotal for individuals exploring Judaism all around the world today. [3]

(15:01 - 31:41): Mejia outlines the development of his work over the past decade. At first, he focused on anusim (descendants of Jews who had been forced to convert during the Spanish inquisition). [4] Eventually, though, he decided to broaden his work to include even those who are not likely to have Jewish ancestry but nonetheless become interested in becoming Jewish. He describes how he connects with these people, including the role that his Spanish-language prayer book has played. [5] He then discusses barriers in addition to language that his work aims to surmount. Mejia talks, too, about the growth of Jewish communities outside of his own region of focus -- spotlighting the Jews of Uganda as a case study. [6]

(31:42 - 51:05): Mejia recounts the role that his own past struggles to connect to Judaism plays in informing and motivating his work engaging people dealing with similar challenges today. He warns against the danger of "spiritual colonialism" and argues that we are in the midst of a period of "de-diasporization." In conclusion, he analyzes important realities in today's Jewish world, including the growing importance of non-Jews in Jewish communities, and the strength of Spanish-speaking Jewry within the United States. [7]

[1] Learn more about Be'chol Lashon by visiting their website.

Image Credit: The Forward

Image Credit: The Forward

[2] Gain another window into Mejia's fascinating story by reading this 2007 Haaretz article, entitled "In Spain Our Name Was Messiah"

[3] Mejia introduces some of the debates around conversion to Judaism taking place online. Engage these issues more further through this JTA article.

[4] This 2009 JTA article provides a look at Mejia's early work, focusing on anusim. If you'd like to access some basic information regarding the history of anusim, click here.

[5] Mejia's prayer book, entitled Kol Tuv Sefarad, is digitally available, in full, at this link. For his full website, featuring Spanish-language videos, texts and more, click here.

[6] Learn more about the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda through this 2016 article, featured in Tablet Magazine.

[7] Mejia identifies B'nai Jeshurun, a congregation in New York City, as a strong example of a synagogue that is thriving under the leadership of Latin-American Jews. Learn more about B'nai Jeshurun by visiting their website.