Recently a convert to Judaism from Mexico came and spoke at my school, Foxman Torah Institute, a Jewish boys high school in Cherry Hill. He spoke to us about the importance of G-d, Judaism, and finding meaning in life.
As a young boy, Jerson Yañez, like most Mexican boys, grew up wishing he could become a professional soccer player. At a young age, while he was playing for his local team, Yañez was scouted by a top-rated Mexican professional team, Club America, and he was asked to join the youth team. After a few years of playing on the youth team, at the age of 16, he was asked to join their division-one team, the team that feeds into Club America. His dream as a young boy to become a professional soccer player was coming true.
Yañez was on that team with three players currently playing professionally in Europe. But Yañez was a center-fielder and captain of his team, and as the best player on the team, was slated to be the top soccer player in Mexico. Yañez quickly became famous, and people would stop him on the street and ask for his autograph. He told us about the incredible feeling he had, hearing tens of thousands of fans cheering his name as he ran through the tunnel and out onto the field of the Estadio Azteca stadium in Mexico city.
Yañez was offered his first contract with pay as a 16-year-old boy. He and his family were thrilled. However, soon after, he suffered a minor injury requiring him to sit out for a month.
During his time off, his father took him on a trip to visit relatives in Denver, Colorado, who had themselves become converts to Judaism many years before. While Yañez was in Denver, he experienced the beauty of Shabbos. On Friday night, as he walked around the neighborhood and observed scenes of multigenerational families sitting together singing, smiling, and laughing, and grandfathers telling stories and teaching Torah, he was very inspired. After Yañez’s brief exposure to Torah life, he knew that he wanted to join this religion that was filled with so much meaning and spirituality.
Jerson Yañez made a decision at the age of 17 that he would become a Jew. Even though he was on the road to a life of wealth and fame, with a bright future in professional soccer, he chose to leave everything behind in Mexico, trading it all to become a fully observant Jew. He converted to Judaism and went to Israel to learn in Yeshiva.
Akiva Yañez currently is married with a son, and learning in a Kollel in Silver Spring, Maryland. Amazingly, he told us that now he gets filled with that same feeling and excitement each time he comes through the hallway and enters into the Beis Medrash to study Torah, knowing that what he’s about to do is so much more meaningful and eternal than anything else he could be doing…even playing soccer.
Being that I lived in England most of my life, I grew up with a soccer ball at my feet. When I was a child, just like many kids, I always dreamt that I’d grow up to be a professional soccer player. When I heard Jerson Yañez was coming to our school, I couldn’t wait. As he spoke about his life, I could relate to his story. I was in awe of his soccer accomplishments and what he was able to achieve at such a young age.
But his decision to leave that life and become a Jew who follows Torah and mitzvos made an even greater impression on me as well as on the other students here at Foxman Torah Institute. We were really moved by his story. He showed us the awesomeness of being a Jew and gave us a new appreciation of the opportunity we have to learn Hashem’s Torah. We now realize more clearly how fortunate we are to be part of the Jewish peoples.
Source & Photo Credit: Jewish Community Voice