Jorge and Marcela Goldstein, MJBI Argentina Directors, have unique family backgrounds. Both were born into secular Jewish families. Marcela’s father Franco, an Italian Holocaust survivor, was saved from certain death when his mother hid him in a Catholic convent. But this also eventually led him to reject his Jewish roots. Jorge’s father was also a Jew, but non-practicing. Each thought they had married “Gentile” (non-Jewish) women, but it was discovered soon after that both mothers, Florencia and Angelita, were actually Marranos (Jews whose traditions and blood line were hidden centuries before due to conversion or fear of persecution). Below is a short interview with the Goldstein’s about their ongoing work in Argentina and Latin America.
How did God call you to reach your people?
We founded Ministerio Bet-El para America Latina (Bet-El Ministry for Latin America) as ordained Baptist ministers. But soon after, the Lord urged us to return to our Jewish roots. We were invited to train musicians from a Messianic Jewish congregation, and Marcela began taking classes and studying Hebrew. The most defining moment in our call was after the Jewish Voice Festival in 2000 when MJBI Argentina was established and we were appointed as directors. God has provided abundant provision ever since.
What are the challenges of Jewish ministry In Argentina?
With the third largest Jewish community in the world, our greatest challenge is to lessen their mistrust due to Argentina’s historically strong anti-Semitism. Our government sheltered many Nazis after WWII due to an alliance between President Juan Perón and the Third Reich. They permitted the entry of war criminals, gave them false identities, and allowed some to live very prestigiously within the country. Anti-Semitism is still strong, and on several occasions people have painted swastikas at the entrance of our congregation.
Our ministry has taken a personal approach with the Jewish community, building relationships based on Hosea 11:4 “I led them with cords of kindness and ties of love.” This has come as a surprise to them! As an example, one of our congregations is located in the center of a commercial Jewish community; and during Jewish holidays, our youth strategically approach these Jewish businesses to leave holiday gifts and cards.
How has the ministry of MJBI impacted South America?
Much fruit has been produced over the last few years. A love for Jewish people has been awakened in the hearts of pastors, ministry leaders, and churches. They, in turn, have been trained to bring the Word to the Jews and to deliver the knowledge of Jewish roots to evangelical Christians. Many of our students started as leaders in their respective churches and have now become pastors, allowing them to reach even more with these important truths. We have an active worship arts program with a Hebrew emphasis as well.
Many Latin American surnames originated during the Spanish Inquisition when Jews hid their identities by changing names. So if it is discovered that a last name is actually a “hidden” Jewish name, it is profoundly touching. In fact, the common denominator among our students as they re-encounter faith through their newly-discovered Jewish roots is the healing brought to each in spirit, soul, and body.
MJBI Argentina also provides teaching to our Bet-El Ministry in Uruguay where members and leaders of our congregation and other churches are being trained. Recently one of the first students to ever graduate from MJBI Argentina was able to become a teacher. Last year we implemented an option for the students to switch between regular classroom sessions or long distance courses. This was a very successful change. Our long-distance courses have students in Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Peru and Ecuador. We are also currently working to accept students from Colombia, Spain and Spanish-speaking communities in Florida, California and France.
Obadiah 1:20b states “…the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the cities of the Negev.” As descendants of “hidden” Sephardic Jews, we choose to openly claim this verse as our physical birthright. But we also desire to reach the millions of Spanish-speaking people of Latin America—our spiritual “Negev”—with Yeshua’s cords of kindness and love.
Who are the Anusim (Marrano) Jews?
Anusim is Hebrew for “coerced [ones]” or the “forced [ones]” and refers to any Jew who is forced to convert to another religion against his will. The word Marrano (derived from both the Arabic word “forbidden” and Spanish word “pig”) is a specific term for the approximately 100,000–200,000 Sephardic Jewish conversos in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and South America during the course of the Spanish Inquisition. Many Latin American Marranos chose to change their names, hide their traditions and practice Judaism in secret to survive. Some over time lost their religious heritage entirely, only to rediscover their Jewish ethnicity generations later.