Streaming Spanish Conversions: How a Family Vacation Turned into an Opportunity to Serve

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Rabbi Alona Lisitsa

Since Rabbi Alona Lisitsa (HUC-JIR/Jerusalem '04), the first female rabbi in Israel to join a religious council, went on family trip to Europe in 2011, she has become increasingly involved in providing online guidance and support to community members in Portugal and Spain.

In 2011, she visited and conducted services at Lisbon's Ohel Yaakov synagogue, having been contacted on Facebook by Adriana Souza, the congregation's treasurer.

During this initial meeting with Lisbon's non-Orthodox Jewish community, Rabbi Lisitsa became aware of the congregants' deep desire for a local rabbi. This visit resulted in a handful of kehila members connecting with Rabbi Lisitsa on Facebook, where she was peppered with questions on marriage, divorce and conversion.

Then, at the suggestion of Rabbi Joel Oseran, Vice President, International Development World Union for Progressive Judaism, Rabbi Lisitsa attended High Holiday services at Barcelona's Atid community in 2013, where she met more people interested in her growing online conversion course.

At home in Lisbon: Rabbi Lisitsa (fifth from left) visits Ohel Yaakov synagogue.

The success of the Rabbi Lisitsa's online twice-monthly conversion course eventually reached the ears of other Progressive Catalonian congregations. 

Since 2014, Rabbi Lisitsa's compelling, inclusive and effective online program has just been attracting new participants. Oviedo's Beit Emunah kehila and Rota's Bet Januka community reached out to Rabbi Lisitsa following her High Holiday appearances at these congregations. 

The growing workload was becoming too much for one volunteer, even one as gifted as Rabbi Lisitsa, to handle. As such, the congregations in Rota, Lisbon and Oviedo submitted a proposal to the European Union for Progressive Judaism (EUPJ) that the rabbi's relationship with these communities be formalized. 

According to Miriam Kramer, Chairman of the European Union for Progressive Judaism, "We at the EUPJ are delighted about Rabbi Alona Lisitsa's work in Spain. She is a vital part of bringing Judaism back to that country after more than 500 years."

To date, Rabbi Lisitsa has helped three people convert, with another four conversions scheduled to take place in May. Currently, a total of 50 people are participating in the online course, now being conducted on a weekly basis. Half of the participants are Jewish while the other half are conversion candidates.

Rabbi Lisitsa continues to make great efforts on behalf of people considering conversion. In February, she returned to Lisbon to interview 13 conversion candidates. Next, she plans to travel to Rota to meet with an additional eight people considering conversion to Judaism.

During these visits to Europe, Rabbi Lisitsa also leads Kabbalat Shabbat services, Shacharit with Torah reading, study sessions and Havdalah. 

While local rabbinic supervision would be ideal, Rabbi Lisitsa's important work is turning the idea of conversion into a real possibility for a growing amount of people. 


Source: Originally appeared in the World Union for Progressive Judaism Newsletter: Issue #510, 26 March 2015 / 6 Nisan 5775


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.