I had the pleasure to interview David Ben Moshe in my Israel Unfiltered interview series.
David Ben Moshe is a writer, inspirational speaker, and expert fitness coach whose life is a testament to the power of positive change. While serving a prison sentence for selling drugs and guns, he decided to build a better life. He became a successful personal trainer, eventually owning a fitness studio in Baltimore, Maryland. He has a BS in Exercise Science, Magna Cum Laude, from Towson University. David underwent an Orthodox Jewish conversion at B’nai Israel Synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the United States.
After finishing his degree, he was prevented from starting his clinical doctorate in physical therapy at the University of Florida due to his criminal record. Following this disappointment, he moved to Israel and studied at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, winning a prestigious Social Justice Fellowship.
David recently received Israeli citizenship — an automatic and instant right for all Jews, including converts. He has been denied it since 2018 and just finished a hunger strike which successfully gained him citizenship. Despite the challenges he has faced in the country, David is an ardent Zionist and a vocal proponent supporting Israel’s right to exist and flourish.
An internationally sought-out speaker, David has spoken for groups across North America, Europe, and Israel. He currently lives in Beer Sheva with his wife and two children and spends his time writing and coaching.
He is also pursuing a Masters degree in Journalism from NYU and writing a memoir chronicling his incredible journey.
Q: What led you to Judaism?
Sitting in a prison library during an extended lockdown, there happened to be a Jew studying Torah. I asked him some questions about the format of the page, and he taught me the idea of parshanut. This led me to learn more about Judaism, and eventually, I decided to become a Jew myself.
Q: Do you see a big difference between your life prior to converting and after converting?
As we say in Hebrew “שמים וארץ” which literally translates as “Heaven and Earth” but really is equivalent to the phrase “Night and Day.”
Q: What inspired you to make Aliyah?
After a heartbreaking experience where I was packed and ready for graduate school but not allowed to register for classes, I took it as a sign from HaShem that now was the time to move to Israel.
Q: What are your current relationships with Judaism and the land of Israel?
I am a practicing Modern Orthodox Jew, but one of the great things about Israel is I have friends from across the Jewish spectrum, from ultra-Orthodox to Reform to nonreligious.
The land of Israel is my home, as it is for Jews across the spectrum, and I love it here. It is a beautiful country with a rich history that I will never be done exploring and learning about.
Q: What is your favorite Jewish holiday, and why?
Yom Kippur and Purim. I see them as two sides of the same holiday. They show us the power of seemingly contradicting ways to be holy and which are really part of a greater concept.
Q: What keeps you motivated to preserve and obtain Israeli citizenship, despite the adversary you are facing?
I am a Jew, and this is my home.
Q: What role does Zionism/Judaism play in your daily life and career?
What could be more Zionist than fighting for your right as a Jew to live in Israel?
Also, a major part of my work involves building bridges between the Jewish and Black communities in the United States. This involves educating people about the complex history and situation of Zionism and Judaism instead of the simple narrative that currently dominates the discourse.
Q: What’s the first thing you plan to do when you finally obtain Israeli citizenship?
Take Tamar, my loving and supportive wife, on vacation/late honeymoon. This process has been stressful for both of us, and we were unable to have a proper honeymoon after our marriage because we had to spend so much time fighting to keep me in the country legally.
Q: What is one thing you know about Israel that even her greatest supporters may not know?
How we can grow from our struggles with the land. There are things you will learn about Israel, and yourself, when you get out of your comfort zone and interact with Israel in a real sense.
Q: Share an only-in-Israel moment. (we all have at least one!)
On Chol Hamoed Pesach a few years back, I was hiking in the Jerusalem forest with my daughter, and we saw two guys walking with donkeys. We started talking and found out they were from Beit Shemesh and decided to Aliyah la’regel (ascend to Jerusalem on foot) literally to celebrate the holy day.
We showed them a local Maayan where they set up camp and brought them food and water so they could rest overnight and continue their journey.
Q: What’s your favorite Israeli snack or cuisine?
Kube. It is a travesty that more people know about Gefilte fish than Kube.
Q: Once you ended your hunger strike, what was the first thing you ate?
I went to Kadosh and had the risotto and then went to Harvey’s for a burger. I was staring at those two restaurants all day while I was outside the Ministry of the Interior.
Q: What message do you wish you could get through to the world about Israel?
Israel should give us all faith that if we work hard and never give up, we can find our place in the world and help improve the world for everyone.