There are many steps to the conversion process, but for boys and men, one is both unavoidable and a bit intimidating: the requirement for a bris, or ritual circumcision, regardless of whether the procedure had been done during infancy.
Southside pediatric urologist Hal Scherz was approached by Rabbi Analia Bortz of Congregation Or Hadash for his help in the formal conversion of three Mexican families with Converso ancestry who live between Cartersville and Rockmart in Northwest Georgia.
Scherz immediately went to work to arrange for the pro bono use of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Scottish Rite hospital to perform the procedure on six boys between the ages of 4 and 18.
“I did them all on Halloween,” Scherz said. “Everything went perfectly. I considered it an honor and privilege to see this mitzvah through. Of course, we could see the cultural connection between the roots of our rabbis at Or Hadash and these families.”
Rabbi Bortz, a native of Argentina and a medical doctor, was the first female rabbi in Latin America. She was ordained at the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano.
Enter urologist Barry Zisholtz, who this year performed the circumcisions on the three adult fathers at Georgia Urology’s surgical center in Fayetteville, also at no charge. The ancient ritual, in which blood must be drawn, was done under local anesthesia.
The families visited the Metro Atlanta Community Mikvah for immersions and went through a formal conversion ceremony at Or Hadash.
“They were given Hebrew names and did the appropriate bris prayers,” Zisholtz said. “I was asked to do a mitzvah, and I did so. It was a pleasure to help out fellow Jews.”
Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin of the penis. The rite of circumcision (brit milah) is one of the most ancient practices of Judaism. The commandment to circumcise male children was given to Abraham in the Torah (Genesis 17:7-14, then again in Leviticus 12:3):
“And G-d said unto Abraham: ‘And as for thee, thou shalt keep My covenant, thou and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. This is My covenant. … Every male among you shall be circumcised. … And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken My covenant.”
The journey of these families calls to mind a fascinating documentary at the 2018 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, “Challah Rising in the Desert: The Jews of New Mexico.” The film celebrates the history, influences and people of New Mexico’s Jewish community but also well documents the journey and existing Jewish communities Sephardic Jews, jewish conversion, Congregation Or Hadash, Rabbi Analia Bortz, Mexico, Spanish Inquisition, Spanish, News, Simchas, DNAof Mexico.
The history of the Jews in Mexico dates to 1519 with the arrival of Conversos, often called Marranos or Crypto-Jews, referring to Spanish Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism and became subject to the Spanish Inquisition on the suspicion of continuing to practice Judaism in secret.
Many are finding their way back to Judaism.