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How a Yid from Chicago became the Judio next door

by Roberto Loiederman

March 15, 2007 | 8:00 pm

Ron Cohen (left)

Ron Cohen (left)

Ron Cohen -- a tough-talking, barrel-chested, Chicago-born 57-year-old -- said that he regularly crosses the border from El Centro on Fridays to spend Shabbat with the Medrano family in Mexicali.

"I was the one who got many of these people together," said Cohen, whose wife is Mexican. "A couple of years ago, I was here in Mexicali and walked into Alfredo Medrano's digital editing lab just by chance. And I see a menorah there."

"So I say, 'Why do you have that?' And he's a little wary: 'Why do you want to know?' So I show him this," Cohen said, displaying his Magen David necklace.

"And I tell him, 'Cause I'm a Jew.' So then I went about linking up the Medranos with Jose Orozco and all the others.

"That's the meaning of my life, connecting people," he said. "I find out that someone wants to practice Judaism, or at least know more about it, and I put them in touch with others already on that path. That's how this community has grown."

"Look, this is a congregation looking for a home, looking for someone to minister to them. Wouldn't it be great if someone up in the States donated money for them so they could have their own shul? I mean, even a small one, where they could have a Torah and the place would become the social and cultural center of this community," Cohen stressed.

"I'm always thinking about what can be done to raise money for this group," he continued. "I mean, even if it's just enough to get prayer books in Spanish and Hebrew. If we could get 30 or 40 siddurim to start out with, it would be terrific. I've got some ideas on how to raise money. Here's one: For Purim we can make Mexican-style pinatas that represent Haman. Fill them with candies. I know we could make a few bucks on that idea."

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