Eliyah Hawila, a Lebanese Shiite Muslim man who impersonated an ultra-Orthodox Jew and was uncovered only after he had wed a member of Brooklyn’s Jewish community, arrived in Israel over the Passover holiday in order to undergo full conversion to Judaism.
The revelation that Hawila was secretly Muslim sparked fears, and an FBI investigation, that he was working for a terror group to infiltrate the Jewish community, and also outrage that rabbis overseeing the wedding had failed to spot that he was an imposter.
Two weeks after the wedding, the bride’s family discovered documents in his home including a Lebanese passport under a different name.
He was born Ali Hassan Hawila to a Shiite family in southern Lebanon.
Ever since the story came to light, Hawila has gone deeper into Judaism, and has said he underwent extra-stringent conversion, telling Kan news about his attempts to correct what he had done and regain his beloved.
“It felt just like coming home,” Hawila said of his first arrival in Israel. “I looked out the plane window and said I was not leaving.”
After passing the security check at Ben Gurion Airport, Hawila responded to various hypotheses that he was a spy: “They checked me at the airport from top to bottom. If there is anything against me, take me to jail and kill me.”
He has been hosted by Chizki Sivak, a deputy chairman of the Hefer Valley Regional Council, who was touched by his story and wanted to help him.
“I saw his story, which revealed an amazing story of a man whose heart is with the Jewish people and the State of Israel. I told myself that it could not be that such a person would feel so alone in the world,” Sivak said.
Hawila said he is trying to prove to his wife and others that even if he lied about his Muslim identity, he is determined to rectify the situation and become a Jew religiously and legally.
“I said I would do it like a man and take responsibility,” he said. “So I went with a legal conversion if it gives me the chance to be with my wife.”
Even if he were to legitimately convert, Hawila would likely be unable to wed the woman due to an unusual, strict edict issued by the insular Syrian Jewish community in the US in 1935 that forbade its members from marrying converts.
Hawila dismissed old photos of him in which he was seen in the company of members of the Amal Shiite organization, an ally of the Hezbollah terror group.
“I tell them I’m not on your side. To hell with [Hassan] Nasrallah and [Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih] Berri and their antisemitism,” he said. “I’m not afraid and I curse them and I say here in front of the cameras that I hope I will have the right to kill Nasrallah myself.”
Hawila added that he even took a genealogical test and discovered that he does have Jewish roots.
“I did a DNA test. I opened the phone and saw that I had a connection to Ashkenazi Jews. I felt it all these years and suddenly it has genetic proof. It strengthened me. I said to myself — I am a Jew and I will continue in this direction,” he said.
Hawila said that he hopes that the conversion will allow him to marry and have kids “who are proud to be Jews and Israelis.”
“I want my children to learn in a yeshiva,” he said.