An African-American Jewish convert living in Jerusalem changed his name recently to Barack Obama, saying it will give him a platform to speak out on issues much like the American president.
After a two-month process, a special committee at the Interior Ministry approved Mark Hardie’s request to change his name to that of the current US president. He said his lawyer in the United States is working to have his name legally changed in the US to Barack Obama as well.
“I left out the middle name” — Hussein, he said, because it didn’t jibe with his Jewish character. Hardie said he changed his name so that he could have a platform to speak about issues, such as the peace process and the ultra-Orthodox draft. By changing his name to Barack Obama it would allow him “to speak out in support of Israel” and unite the Jewish people, he said.
“I want to help build a strong Israel,” Obama said.
Hardie underwent a Reform conversion to Judaism in 1995 and an Orthodox one in 1997. Three years later he moved to Israel and served in the IDF.
After his release in 2002, he served three years in the US military. He has written a hip hop translation of the Bible, and in 2011 expressed a desire to become the first African-American member of Knesset.
He also for a period declared himself the grand rabbi of a united Hasidic dynasty of Lubavitch-Satmer-Sanz.
According to his Facebook page, Hardie spent two years in a mental institution in California between 2009 and 2011 and was recently hospitalized at a Jerusalem-area mental hospital.
“I decided to go with Barack Obama. I respect the president and I felt like it could be good for Israel to have a Jewish Barack Obama,” he said. Because both Obamas are African-Americans, Hardie-Obama said he felt a “special connection” to the US president and his entire family.
“Everybody, when they see my ID card, at the bank or on the street, they go, wow! Barack Obama,” he said. Employees at his local coffee shop in the Katamon neighborhood of the capital have taken to addressing him as Mr. President.
The Jewish Barack Obama said the move was not “just a gimmick” or “publicity stunt.”
“I take my Judaism very seriously. I take myself very seriously,” he said.