Humans of Olami: Romeo-Adan Ventura

What happens when someone is born to a Jewish family, but that family does not practice? Is that person still Jewish? The answer is yes. And Olami’s Romeo-Adan Ventura knows first-hand what it’s like to be a “reconnecting Jew.” Thanks to Ventura’s curious nature, his willingness to explore and educate himself, and his own personal courage, he was able to find his true home within the Jewish community, even though it wasn’t a community he knew growing up.

Ventura grew up in a family that didn’t really practice any type of religion. “There were a lot of secrets in my family I didn’t know about,” he explains. “It wasn’t until I got older that I discovered a lot about those secrets.” It was a curious time for a young Ventura, who wanted to know more about where he came from and what religion his family practiced.

“For a group of non-religious people, it was interesting,” he recalls. “My mom was very big on not eating pork and my grandma’s signature dish was matzo ball soup. And I’m growing up and eating this matzo ball soup asking ‘isn’t this a Jewish staple?’” In fact, though his family wasn’t practicing, he was growing up in a very Jewish neighborhood of Los Angeles. “So I was always drawn to Judaism when I was younger, but it wasn’t until I got older that I was able to do my own searching and discovered that we were actually Jewish on my mom’s side.”

A search for educational opportunities drew Ventura to Colorado, where he set off on his own. “I left home at 16 and I wanted to get away. That’s what I did. I ended up in Colorado and at one point I paid $600 bucks just to buy a minivan so I had somewhere to sleep. It was almost a year before I got on my feet and got my own apartment in Cherry Creek.”

For school, he ended up on Auraria Campus, where he began searching for community. A quick look through some social media communities drew Ventura to the Campus Chabad, where he attended a Chanukah party and met many young professionals in the Jewish community. “The first thing I noticed,” he recalls, “was that no one was trying to push an agenda on me. No one was forcing me to do anything. But they were all so welcoming and kind to me. I’ve been to other places and other religious environments, and they’re always trying to convert. But here, it was different.”

From there, Ventura was introduced to Rabbi Alyesh and he began attending some of the Olami learning nights. “I just thought, I had nothing to lose, why not try it out, what will it hurt? And I went down there and I’m not going to lie. I actually loved it. I realized that the more I knew and the more I had studied before and grew my own opinions, they were the same as everyone else there. It felt so natural to be able to sit there and have a religious discussion and not be told that I was wrong. That was like, ‘woah.’”

Now, Ventura tries to attend as many Olami events as he’s able. “It’s friendly, it’s welcoming and that’s what Olami has been since I’ve become involved. Everyone in that group is so welcoming. Rabbi Danny, Rabbi Alyesh, I enjoy listening to them both and I’ve loved having the opportunity to sit down with each of them to study Talmud.”

And one fact that really sticks out for Ventura? “Rabbi Alyesh was quick to correct me one day,” he explains. “I was calling myself a reconnecting Jew, and he stopped me and said, ‘No. You’re Jewish. It made me feel so welcome. Like I was that long lost family member. No one knew I was family, but once they did – I was accepted as though I was.”

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