HOBE SOUND — Pablo Martinez's tendency to question authority landed him at hard labor in the sugar cane fields of Fidel Castro's Cuba when he was a teenager during the 1960s.
It also led him on a long spiritual journey that culminated this month when Martinez, 59, and his extended family - 11 people and three generations - converted to Judaism.
Looking back, it almost seems ordained.
Martinez was taught religion by his Christian mother, who used the Old Testament.
"If a priest or a nun would ask about me, people would say, 'Oh, he's a Jew,' because if you were not a Catholic, you were a Jew," Martinez said.
His interest in religion began when he was a boy, but he was a man with a wife and three kids living in the United States when he set to work on a close reading of the Old Testament.
His family came from Cuba after the Mariel boatlift, and he became an ordained Baptist minister while also working as a plumber.
About that time, his first marriage broke up and he left the Baptist Church.
A year later, he met Jenny Harrison at a Christian church he was visiting.
Her family came from a small town near Waycross, Ga. She describes her religious background as a combination of primitive Baptist and Old Testament Christians.
They dated for 21/2 years and were married in 1995.
They opened a small nondenominational Christian church, borne out of their Christian 12-step counseling program, and continued from 1996 to 2007.
During this period, Martinez, who had been trained as a translator, started reading original biblical texts and translations.
"Once you find an error in a text you have considered to be perfect, then you realize that text needs to be analyzed with much care, and without a gullible and receptive mind," Martinez said.
He made a discovery he could not ignore: The Trinity - one God in three persons, central to the Christian faith - did not arise from Jesus' teaching but from the early church fathers of the first century.
"Jesus was a Jew and he was a rabbi, that was all he was," Martinez concluded. "He never made the claim of being more than a man."
Martinez then turned his attention to Shabbat, the seventh day, when God rested after creating the world. Sunday as the Lord's Day, he concluded, was "the invention of Christianity."
When Martinez told the people who attended his weekly meetings that he felt the right thing to do was to change the day to Saturday, they stopped coming. Eventually, the weekly meetings consisted only of the Martinez extended family.
"It was not an easy change to make," Jenny said. "It was a total life change."
Pablo said, "All these things required a lot of research. I'm not a man who quits thinking what I think in an easy way. You have to prove it to me."
"What you believe is the most important thing in life," he said. "I realized that I cannot be a Christian again."
"People got very angry and started stomping out. It was sad. In many cases it was people we had known for years. It was very painful."
For a while, even his family had difficulty accepting his decision.
"It was the worst slump in my life," he recalled.
One by one, they made their peace with him - first his oldest daughter Rebeca and her husband, Josue Perez.
"After that, we built a new relationship. Now she is more to me than a daughter. She is a very dear close friend."
He reconciled next with his sons Magdiel and Misiel.
Eventually, they and their spouses and children decided that they also wanted to convert to Judaism.
One of his daughters and two of his wife's children from a previous marriage decided to remain Christians.
Martinez found Temple Beth David while searching the Internet for a congregation. A rabbi in Miami referred him to Rabbi Michael Singer.
When the Martinez-Perez clan started attending services at Temple Beth David, a conservative congregation, they felt welcomed.
"We were really just hoping to be tolerated," said Jenny Martinez. "But they treated us like members of the family. We were really humbled by that."
Late last year, the family began formal instruction in Judaism, studying with Singer at the Palm Beach Gardens temple.
"When I first met them, I wanted to hear their story and I found it amazing," Singer said. "I said, well, I can't guarantee how this process will end. All I can say is, it will be my pleasure to teach you. They've been diligent, now they'll be official."
Singer estimates that he converts 18 to 24 people a year. Besides the Martinez family, there were five others in this class, he said.
On June 1, each adult member of the family was interviewed by a beit din, a panel of three rabbis.
Once the rabbis decided that each convert's motives and understanding were sound, they gave their approval. The beit din was followed by a mikvah, a ritual immersion. Two weeks later, the were formally introduced to the Beth David community.
The youngest generation of the Martinez-Perez clan was as enthusiastic as their grandfather. Sallie, 12, reads Hebrew better than Martinez. Four-year-old Mimi memorized her Hebrew prayers.
"We feel at home," said Martinez, putting his feet up on a hassock. "My spiritual dilemma is over."