A team of three reporters and photographers document the amazing journey of 600 Colombians who followed their young religious leaders from a congregation of evangelical Christianity into Orthodox Judaism, becoming a congregation of 600 in Medellín, Colombia. Guided at first only by books and the deep feeling of connectedness to God which two of the evangelists had experienced during visits to Israel that were not related to religion, the leaders learned how to practice Judaism, converted their families and community members and instructed them in kosher Jewish observance. René Cano eventually moved his family to Israel in 2015 and has become Shlomo Caro.
Shlomo had given his family a new last name — Caro instead of Cano. Joseph Caro was a 16th-century Jewish sage who wrote the Shulchan Aruch, the most widely consulted Jewish legal code. By changing just one letter, Shlomo was hoping to provide his children with a name that had prestige and tradition.
Juan Carlos spent an intensive study year in Israel to supplement his years of self-study and tutored learning in Colombia with visiting rabbis from other countries and has become Rabbi Elad Villegas. He leads the congregation founded by himself and Shlomo and now inspires Jews and teaches Judaism to emerging and older congregations around the country. The reporters write:
In Medellín, though, Elad has become the public face not only of the conversion movement but of Judaism itself. One morning, we drove to an elite school in El Poblado where he had been invited to speak at an interfaith forum. No one from the older Jewish community had been included. The next day, he delivered a lecture on kashrut at a conference on food security at a private university, also in El Poblado. At both events, he was introduced as “the leader of the Jewish Community of Antioquia.”
Elad told me about his many plans. A design for a mikvah, or ritual bath, to be built on the synagogue’s premises had been sent to Israel for rabbinical approval. He was about to close a deal with a poultry farm in Cali, an hour’s flight away, to open a kosher section. With the support of the Goldsteins, a new yeshiva for converts from Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador was in the works.
I was curious. His path toward Judaism had started in Jerusalem. Wasn’t he tempted to make the final step that so many converts take: aliyah, migration to Israel? He loved Israel, he replied, and the idea of living there was tempting, and he had considered it, but he needed to stay in Bello. People depended on him. Here he was a leader.