'New' synagogue raising money for sefer Torah
There is a new synagogue on the block, although it isn’t really a new one. Perhaps the term should be “changed” synagogue. Congregation Shomer Ysrael, located at 5382 Hoffner Ave., Orlando, was for several years a Messianic congregation with about 200 members. It is now, and has been for about two years, a very committed Jewish congregation with about 30 members. In fact, they celebrated their first Rosh Hashanah as Jews in September 2013, and for the congregation it was truly a new beginning. Congregation Shomer Ysrael became the first Hispanic Jewish synagogue in Orange County. Now, the small congregation is raising money for their first sefer Torah.
Spiritual leader Eliezer Sepulveda said he began to question his long-held beliefs and went over all the Messianic prophecies. He went over Torah, word by word, and came to the conclusion that he had to resign his position as the minister of the congregation. To his amazement, 45 members stayed. The rest left, moving to different Messianic congregations.
Sepulveda’s father was a Christian minister but his mother was Jewish. Still, he was raised in the Christian faith. He became a Baptist minister and then became involved in the Jews for Jesus movement, becoming a translator in Buenos Aires. Later he was sent to Chicago to learn how to evangelize the Jews and began at that time to question prophecy. Continuing in his studies, he set aside his questions and became a Messianic rabbi. He taught Hebrew in churches, was on a radio show teaching about Jewish observances, wrote a book, and became the spiritual leader of Congregation Shomer Ysrael.
Upon stepping down, he lost his family, relatives, friends, and his means to financially support himself and his wife, who eventually divorced him.
“To go against is to go against everything,” he shared.
However, he and his small band of congregants (about 20 members) decided to convert completely to Judaism and attended the Discover Judaism course, taught by Rabbi Kay at Congregation Ohev Shalom.
“I was touched by David Kay and his wife. It was risky for him to do this,” Sepulveda said.
Rabbi Kay set up a special conversion class for Sepulveda and his congregants. “They had so many questions for Rabbi Kay. The one hour class often stretched to two hours,” Sepulveda said.
After the first group finished the classes, a second group of Hispanics from Sepulveda’s former Messianic synagogue took the Discover Judaism classes, again taught by Kay.
“The enthusiasm and the passion were great,” Kay told the Orlando Sentinel in 2013. “To be part of the process of bringing a group of people to their spiritual home is just an incredible honor.”
After conversion, the members of the small congregation could have chosen to join Congregation Ohev Shalom. However, there were two reasons why they did not: First, there was the language barrier. Some of the members are over 60 and they struggle with English; and second, many live in Poinciana and St. Cloud and COS is too far away.
Now they are hoping to raise money for a sefer Torah with a fundraiser raffle to be held April 26 for a $300 cash prize. Tickets are $10 each. A second fundraiser is a Domino Tournament on Sunday, June 7. First prize is $200; second prize, $100; and third prize, $50. Registration is $10.
“We are praying for a miracle regarding many congregations that have many sifrei Torah, If they can lend us one, we can pay for the insurance in the mean time,” said Sepulveda. “Our goal is to have one at the end of this Hebrew year.”
For more information about the fundraiser or Congregation Shomer Ysrael, call 407-227-1258.