I read a fascinating article today from the Canadian press. It was written by a young man, Mark Halawa, a Jew from Kuwait, hard as it is to believe it.
His maternal grandmother, Rowaida Mizrachi from a Jerusalem Sephardic Jewish family was 16 years old when she met 18 year old Mohammad al-Masri, born in the West Bank, who was serving in the Jordanian army fighting the Zionists.
The two fell in love and despite her parents’ strict objections, they were married in a Muslim ceremony in Jerusalem and then moved to Nablus (Shechem) where they lived for several years. On discharge from the Jordanian army, the couple moved to Kuwait. The father was successful in business and the family, now with five children, lived very comfortably.
The author, Mark Halawa, was educated as a Muslim and the family attended services at the mosque.
His mother never revealed her Jewish origins and his father was bitterly opposed to a State of Israel and referred to Zionists and Jews as monkeys and pigs. Mark was raised to hate Jews and Israelis.
After The Iraqi-Kuwait war, the family emigrated to Canada. Some years later, the parents and four of the children returned to Kuwait. Mark remained in Canada.
One day while studying in the university library he met an Orthodox bearded man and began a conversation asking him questions about Jews and their religion.
The man, Rabbi Block, asked him about his background and he informed the Rabbi that he had secretly found out that his grandmother was Jewish. He had seen a Hebrew prayerbook hidden in her home. When he asked his grandmother if she was Jewish she admitted to having been born Jewish but was now a Muslim and she requested that he not ask her any more questions.
Rabbi Block told Mark that if his maternal grandmother was born Jewish, then his mother was Jewish which made him also Jewish. Mark was astonished. He simply could not believe that he was a Jew born, raised and educated as a Muslim in Kuwait.
One thing led to another and Rabbi Block invited Mark to attend a synagogue service. There he met Moroccan and Egyptian Jews and conversed with them in Arabic. It was as if lightning had struck him.
He arranged with Rabbi Block to learn how to read Hebrew and to study Torah. Recently he spent several months in Israel studying at Aish HaTorah’s Jerusalem Fellowship program. He rejoices in his newly discovered Jewish roots.
His mother insists that he is a Muslim and his father chastizes him for calling himself a Jew. His grandmother Rowaida refuses to talk to him about her Jewish birth and tells him to stop the nonsense…”You are a Muslim, not a Jew”.
In spite of personal difficulties, Mark Halawa is trying to find himself as a Jew… a Jew from Kuwait.
He will probably never become Orthodox and he might not even become a Zionist. But with his new-found love of Judaism and his interest in Israel, he will certainly be a Jew.
And who knows? He might even change his name from Mark to Moshe !