By Josefin Dolsten, JTA
Over the course of a few days, the tiny Jewish community in Nicaragua more than doubled when 114 people converted to Judaism.
Last month, community members answered questions before a beit din of three Orthodox rabbis from Israel and the United States and immersed in a newly built mikvah in Managua, the Central American country’s capital. Male converts underwent circumcisions or symbolic circumcisions if already circumcised.
On July 23, following the conversions conducted at the Managua home of a community leader, 22 couples wed according to Jewish tradition in a Managua social hall rented for the occasion. Kulanu, a New York-based group that supports communities around the world seeking to learn about Judaism, had facilitated the conversions. (This Kulanu is not associated with the Cedarhurst-based educational organization with the same name.)
“There was a great amount of trepidation in their faces and anxiousness because it was so important to them, and when they emerged from the mikvah the glow on their faces was amazing,” said beit din member Rabbi Mark Kunis. “The excitement that it engendered was phenomenal.”
At least half the candidates claimed Jewish ancestry, and most had been studying Judaism for at least five years — with some pursuing Judaism almost their entire lives, Rabbi Kunis told JTA. All the candidates except one family were accepted for conversion. One of the beit din rabbis served as a Spanish translator, since most of the candidates could not communicate in English, he said.
“I feel at home,” Even Centeno, 21, told JTA of having officially become Jewish. “This was for me like a dream.”Centeno is among the converts who trace their ancestry to Sephardic Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition.
Centeno, who converted along with his parents and sister, said he was aware of his family’s Jewish ancestry since he was a young child and started learning about Judaism at the age of 11.
The conversions bring a significant influx of Jews to Nicaragua. Jews have been living there since the 18th century, but the community numbered only about 50 in 2012 and was comprised mostly of American retirees, according to the Nicaraguan Israelite Congregation. That year, Kulanu helped facilitate the conversions of 14 people, most of whom claimed ancestry to Jewish men who had married non-Jewish Nicaraguan women. Another 14 converted in 2015, but the recent group is…