Rabbi Juan Mejia and his MacBook have done amazing things without the local religious leader ever having to leave his home.
Of course, Mejia does travel from his Oklahoma City home to places far and wide as part of his mission to help marginalized Jews find their faith. His goal, with his Kol Tuv Sefarad virtual congregation and his travels, is to help emerging Jewish faith communities and individuals who have been disconnected from the Jewish faith roots to reconnect with Judaism.
Jewish Daily Forward, a New York City-based newspaper, recently named Mejia one of “America's Most Inspiring Rabbis,” recognizing his contributions to American Judaism and the Jewish faith community at large.
Mejia, 35, is the husband of Abby Jacobson, the rabbi of Emanuel Synagogue. I wrote about him and his work with Be'chol Lashon in a story than ran last July in The Oklahoman. Mejia is Southwest coordinator for the San Francisco-based nonprofit that works to connect people across the globe to Judaism.
One of the interesting aspects of his story is his conversion from Catholicism to Judaism. I was fascinated to learn he grew up in his native Bogota, Colombia, with aspirations to become a monk before finding his way to Judaism after discovering his paternal grandfather's Jewish heritage.
In an editor's note with an article titled “America's Most Inspiring Rabbis: 36 Rabbis Shaping 21st Century Judaism,” Judith Eisner, Jewish Daily Forward editor-in-chief, said rabbis singled out for recognition were chosen from hundreds suggested by the news outlet's readers.
“When we initiated this project, I hoped to engage readers and hear stories about rabbis in unlikely places as we embark on a yearlong series examining the embattled American rabbinate. I did not expect to receive a deluge of heartfelt responses so compelling that it was difficult to select the 36 profiled here,” Eisner wrote.
“And the lesson from these 36, a special number in our tradition, is that American Jews, regardless of denomination, geography or gender, harbor a deep longing for spiritual leadership — and respond to it not only in synagogue, but in classrooms, Hillels and hospices. They yearn for rabbis who touch the soul and create community. These rabbis offer that kind of leadership.”
Mejia was nominated by Daniel Lessner, a rabbi in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, who said he leads a group made up mostly of former Americans. In his nomination, Lessner wrote that Mejia helped nurture a group of Mexican nationals who began coming to Lessner's Shabbat services wanting to reclaim what they felt was their Jewish heritage.
“Rabbi Juan Mejia, being himself a convert (from Colombia, originally), understood their plight and has dedicated his life to helping the B'nai Anusim of Latin America. He gives classes via the Internet to educate those interested in converting to Judaism. He is also the rabbinical mentor for our community and others in Colombia and Latin America,” Lessner wrote.
Congratulations to Mejia. Last year, he promised to keep me apprised of some of his projects on the horizon. I'll have to hold him to that.