[...] It all began seven years ago when Vargas, now 51, became part of a movement in Bogota of religious seekers.
“As I did, most of the people involved came from Christian roots,” he said. “And we found in Judaism an answer to our inquiries.”
But Vargas’ conversion hit a key snag: Jews.
First, Orthodox Jews in Colombia refused to accept Vargas and 200 or so others as would-be Jews, vehemently disavowing association with them and refusing them access to the community’s mikvahs for conversion.
The group, which calls itself Maim Haim -- Hebrew for “living waters” -- turned to religious authorities in Israel for training and, they hoped, eventual conversion, but it was stymied when Colombia’s Orthodox Jewish leadership contacted rabbinic authorities in Israel and warned them against accepting the would-be converts.
Main Haim eventually found a rabbi in Israel willing to teach its members, and in 2007 the rabbi and two colleagues convened a Jewish religious court, or bet din, and converted 104 of them, including Vargas.
Still, many Jewish institutions in Colombia refuse to accept them as members. [...]