Last week, already married with several children, Ovadia and Rachel Oved got married, for the second time – this time in a Jewish ceremony. Both of them are former fighters in the South Lebanese Army, who came to live in Israel when the Christian-controlled bastion in South Lebanon fell to Hezbollah after Israel withdrew from the area.
The Oveds converted to Judaism prior to their remarriage, taking on the Jewish commandments. But, in an interview with Yediot Aharonot, Oved said that while he formally adopted Judaism a short time ago, the move had actually been building for some time, based on several “coincidences” and experiences.
Ovadia Oved was born in central Lebanon, son to a family that had a long tradition of working with Israeli intelligence, even before the establishment of the SLA. His father and brother were murdered by Hezbollah terrorists. He escaped to the south of the country when he heard the the terrorists were looking for him as well. He had been set to travel to Paris, but was unable to get to the airport, which was controlled by Hezbollah forces – so his only option, he said in an interview, was to join the SLA.
When the IDF left South Lebanon in 2000, Oved came to Israel with other SLA soldiers who were evacuated by Israel, leaving his family behind in Lebanon. “I realized I would probably never see them again,” he said.
He lived in several cities in Israel, eventually settling in Givat Olga, where there was a community of ex-SLA soldiers like him. His only relatives in the country were in Tzefat, and he made an effort to keep up a connection with them. While there, he befriended a local rabbi, who arranged for him to visit the Kotel in Jerusalem – his first substantial Jewish experience. At his friend's suggestion, he wrote a note and put it in a crack of the Wall – with a request that he find a bride. Indeed he did, marrying two months later, and settling with his bride in Shlomi in northern Israel.
After they were married, they tried to have children, but were unsuccessful, Oved said. He discussed his problem, with his rabbi friend, who suggested he visit the Cave of Elijah the Prophet in Haifa, considered a propitious site for prayer. There, he and his wife Rachel promised that if they had a son, they would name him after the prophet – and two months later, they received word from doctors that Rachel was indeed pregnant.
That, said Oved, was perhaps the beginning of his decision to convert to Judaism, although he wasn't “quite there yet,” he said. The Oveds began to keep Shabbat and to attend synagogue – and he enrolled his son in a religious Jewish nursery school. As his child grew, he asked his father to participate in Jewish rituals – making kiddush on Friday night, celebrating holidays, etc.
Eventually the couple had two more children – both of whom were influenced by their older brother, and also sought more religious observance at home as they grew. They decided to move to Tzefat, where they could be in a more observant atmosphere – and would have an easier time learning enough about Judaism to convert, a process that was completed several weeks ago, followed by the nuptials. “I came to this marriage ceremony as a different person, a brand new person, and so did Rachel,” he said. “Today the idea of conversion just seems so natural. I don't know why it took me so long to do it.”