By April Basler | firstname.lastname@example.org
After a 6½-year learning experience, Richard Quintana, 53, of East Cobb recently completed his Jewish conversion at a ceremony at his synagogue, Temple Beth Tikvah.
Quintana, a maintenance technician for the Marcus Jewish Community Center, was born Catholic and became agnostic. He always considered himself a spiritual person, however, and decided he wanted to connect with G-d by joining a religious community.
As a Hispanic from Texas, he could have easily reconnected with his Catholic roots, but the people who affected him in his life were Jewish.
Quintana’s girlfriend, Bernice, now his wife, is Jewish and works at Congregation Etz Chaim, and she was a big contributor to his interest in Judaism and his eventual conversion. A few weeks ago, the couple attended their 35th high school reunion in San Antonio and held a surprise wedding in front of all their friends. The newlyweds got together many years after they graduated high school, and Quintana moved to Atlanta to be with Bernice in 2011.
At the Marcus JCC, Quintana graduated this spring from a two-year program with the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, the largest pluralistic adult Jewish education network in the world. He learned a wide array of Jewish traditions, and he attended a class called “Derech Torah” aimed at those who wish to convert to Judaism, though it is open to everyone.
Some people convert to Judaism in months or a couple of years. Quintana needed more time.
“I needed to be at a point where I felt I was comfortable,” he said, “where I really knew as much as I needed to to be part of this community.”
Quintana loves that Jews are encouraged to ask questions about their religion. He said that asking questions is a part of Judaism’s never-ending learning process. Growing up Catholic, he was not allowed to question his religion.
“Whatever was read to you, you listened, you learned, and that was it,” he said.
Another facet of Judaism that Quintana loves is the welcoming community. “It’s great knowing that people are there for you for the good times and the bad, when you’re at your highest and when you’re at your lowest. I’ve seen nothing but that since I came into the faith.”
Wearing a kippah all day is a Jewish tradition that Quintana has fully embraced. In keeping with his free spirit, he wears a different one every day and owns more than 70 kippot.
“I wear it to continually remind me of my covenant with G-d and my humility before him,” Quintana said.
He had guidance through the conversion process from several mentors, including Shelley Buxbaum, the director of the Lisa F. Brill Institute for Jewish Learning at the Marcus JCC, and Rabbi Brian Glusman, the Marcus JCC’s director of membership, outreach and engagement. Quintana thanked them as well as Miriam Rosenbaum, a professional Jewish educator at the Marcus JCC, and Rabbi Fred Greene, who was the rabbi at Temple Beth Tikvah, for all they did to guide him to a Jewish life.
Buxbaum spoke highly of Quintana.
“I was convinced of Richard’s sincerity and commitment to becoming Jewish from our first telephone conversation,” she said. “I was particularly impressed by his sincerity and commitment to living a Jewish life. It has been both an honor and privilege to help guide him along his path to becoming part of the Jewish community.”
Rabbi Glusman said Quintana took on a Jewish identity even before he was a member of the faith.
“He was a proud Jew before becoming Jewish. He wore his Jewish Magen David (Jewish star necklace) and his yarmulke before he was Jewish,” Rabbi Glusman said. “He’s one of those people that had a Jewish soul, and in the classes and with the teachers, he found a way he could nurture that soul and find his way in Judaism. I was honored to be able to serve as a guide and honored to be with him on his journey.”
Quintana hopes for continued growth with his Jewish identity and knowledge. “I don’t want to stop learning.”