By Anne Geggis
Tamarac’s vice mayor, who leads an evangelical North Lauderdale church as Pastor Fire when he’s off the dais, announced publicly he plans to add a yarmulke to his wardrobe … in a manner of speaking.
Just after decrying Mayor Michelle Gomez’s use of identity politics to win an election, the pastor announced at the June 10 meeting that he’s undergoing a conversion to Judaism.
“I am a Christian,” he said, during a fiery, freewheeling exchange between him and the mayor. “I am going through a conversion to join the Jewish community as we speak. And I am learning Hebrew.”
The announcement raised some eyebrows.
“I was confused,” said Commissioner Julie Fishman, who is Jewish.
Contacted later, Bolton, who is facing a challenger to keep his seat in November, declined to elaborate further, or discuss whether the conversion means he would be no longer leading the Praise Experience World Outreach Church, which is identified as an evangelical church.
On the church’s Facebook page, discussion of Jesus, as the savior of humanity, figures in prominently in many videos.
But there is no indication that Bolton intends to leave his position as pastor at the church.
Rabbi Michael Gold, leader of Temple Beth Torah Sha’aray Tzedek in Tamarac, said believing in Jesus, as the son of God, the Messiah, does not jibe with mainstream Judaism.
“Believing that Jesus is anything more than a man who happened to be a Jew is not in keeping with Judaism,” he said. “If a person converting to Judaism regarded Jesus as more than that, “I would not convert them, and I don’t know any rabbi who would.”
Converting would also likely require that Bolton, a native of Jamaica, undergo circumcision, local rabbis agree. For adults, the procedure involves more tissue trauma than what is endured by infants, which is when circumcision typically takes place.
Unlike many other religions, the Jewish faith does not seek converts. But for those who feel strongly about converting, circumcision, and immersion in a mikvah (ritual bath) are only a part of joining the Jewish faith.
The potential convert would need to do extensive studying to understand the many laws and rituals of living a Jewish lifestyle as taught in the Torah, said Rabbi Yankie Denburg, who leads the Chabad Jewish Center in Coral Springs.
“A conversion process is not about quantity: ‘I went to X number of classes, studied for X number of hours,’” Denburg said. “It’s a conversion to a lifestyle, a mindset. It’s a very individualized process.”
Much of Bolton’s speech that included the announcement he was converting to Judaism was centered on complaints that the mayor claims to be Hispanic. She flatly denied the charge.
Gomez, who is Jewish, declined to comment further on Bolton’s charges that she is exploiting identity politics in the city.
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- Anne Geggis has been a newspaper reporter for 30 years, most recently at the Sun Sentinel. She graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., with a double major in journalism and sociology.
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