A recent New York Times article tells of an exciting young rabbi, Rigoberto Emanuel Viñas, who has revived a dying Conservative congregation in Yonkers, New York, through an emphasis on greater diversity and inclusion, as well as through a love of Jewish practice and spirituality. I had the pleasure of meeting Rabbi Viñas at this year’s Be’chol Lashon conference (which I blogged about here), and he explained his belief that there could be literally millions of people in the Latin-speaking world who trace their roots to Jewish ancestors and might be interested in learning more about their Jewish heritage and even returning to Judaism. In fact, Rabbi Viñas—who traces his roots through Cuba to Spain—has helped a number of such Latino families do so. The Times article explains:
The personal histories of the new Latino members are varied. Some are the children of Holocaust survivors who settled in Buenos Aires. Some are New York City-bred Puerto Ricans who married Jewish sweethearts. Others, like Ms. Rodriguez, believe their ancestors were among the Jews who were forced centuries ago to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition. They are known as anusim, a Hebrew term that refers to Jews who forcibly converted. Rabbi Viñas welcomes them, too. Over the last decade, Rabbi Viñas has performed dozens of “ceremonies of return” for people who grew up in Roman Catholic homes watching their grandmothers perform rituals they believed were strange family customs, such as lighting candles on Friday nights.