A current student and an alumnus of The Jewish Theological Seminary have been named to the Jewish Week's prestigious "36 Under 36" list of young Jewish leaders.
Juan Mejía, a fifth-year rabbinical student, and Daniel Kestin, a graduate of the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies of The Jewish Theological Seminary, join thirty-four others on the annual list devoted to highlighting thirty-six young innovators who are reshaping the landscape of Jewish life.
Mr. Mejía, who was born and raised in Colombia, will be graduating from The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary later this month. He is a crypto Jew (formerly known as a converso, a "secret" Jew of Spanish descent). Raised Catholic, he was on his way to becoming a monk when he learned of his Jewish heritage. Following his ordination, he hopes to relocate to the southwestern United States, where he can help the local anusim (descendants of crypto Jews), become leaders in new Jewish community organizations. He also hopes to build a yeshiva for this specific population.
In addition, he has just completed Siddur Kol Tuv Sefarad, a fully transliterated, translated, and commented Spanish-language siddur for Friday night synagogue services, written according to the traditions of Spanish Portuguese Jews. The siddur will be available online so that it will be globally accessible. The idea for the siddur came to him following requests from crypto Jewish communities in Latin America that were interested in returning to the faith of their forefathers but found the siddurim available to them were too expensive and often did not follow the Sephardic traditions of their ancestors.
"Juan Mejía's commitment to helping b'nai anusim return to Judaism has the ability to transform the way that all Jews think about Judaism and the future of the Jewish people," said Rabbi Mychal Springer, associate dean of The Rabbinical School.
Mr. Mejía and his wife and fellow graduating rabbinical student, Abby Jacobson, and their daughter currently live in New York City.
Daniel Kestin is the founder of Kestin Technology Solutions, a software architecture company. During the day, he designs complex software programs for his clients. In the evenings, he is chief technology officer of Hazon, where he has donated his expertise for the past eight years.
A nonprofit organization that seeks to increase health and sustainability in the Jewish community, Mr. Kestin built Hazon's website and then helped to transform it from its original basic operation to a complex site that can be accessed by many volunteers. As a member of the chevra kadisha (burial society) at B'nai Jeshurun in New York City, he has computerized its operations, thereby assisting its volunteers to perform the ultimate mitzvah in a timely fashion.
"Daniel exemplifies the List College mission of cultivating Jewish leaders through his commitment to innovation and enrichment for Jewish young adults," said Dr. Shuly Schwartz, dean of List College. "An outstanding board member, webmaster, and pro-bono chief technology officer for Hazon, Dan has also been one of the mainstays of the List College Young Alumni Division. He raises funds from fellow alumni for new initiatives and mentors current students and recent graduates. We are so proud of all that Dan has achieved in the years since graduation and look forward to his future contributions to the Jewish community."
Originally from Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Mr. Kestin lives in New York with his wife, Elissa Meth.