While assimilation and intermarriage in the Jewish world are generally portrayed as exclusively Diaspora challenges, one young woman’s journey from Judaism to Islam and back has brought the small, but exisiting problem of intermarriage with Arabs in Israel to the forefront.
Noy Sheetrit, a 24-year-old native of Ashkelon, first drew widespread media attention last month when she converted to Islam to marry her Bedouin Arab boyfriend.
Footage of Sheetrit’s conversion to Islam, which took place on the Temple Mount, went viral on social media, and were later publicized by news outlets in Israel and the Arab world.
From Jewish religious school to the mosque
Following her parent’s divorce, Sheetrit was raised by her mother in a traditional, though not Orthodox home. Sheetrit nevertheless attended a religious school before enlisting in the army.
After completing her mandatory army service, Sheetrit met Alla Abu Sajir, a resident of the Bedouin town of Rahat, on an Ashkelon beach.
Eventually, Sheetrit and Abu Sajir decided to wed. After Abu Sajir refused to convert to Judaism, Sheetrit agreed to embrace Islam – leading to the conversion ceremony on the Temple Mount in mid-August.
Some Israeli media outlets, including Channel 10, highlighted the bitter response of Sheetrit’s family and social media users in Israel to her decision to convert to Islam and marry Abu Sajir.
Lehava and Noy’s return to Judaism
Shortly after her conversion, however, Sheetrit began to have second thoughts about the path she had chosen. Sheetrit and Abu Sajir were engaged, though not yet married, The Jerusalem Herald reported, and following the criticism she received after publicizing her conversion via social media, Sheetrit reached out for help.
A day after her conversion to Islam, Sheetrit’s family contacted the Lehava anti-assimilation group led by Bentzi Gopstein and his wife Anat.
"On the day she converted to Islam I already got a phone call from the family,” Anat Gopstein said during an interview with Israel Radio. “The family was confused and didn’t know what to do, the mother was very broken. We guided the family and slowly we got closer to Noy, thanks to volunteers."
Sheetrit, then living with her fiancé in Rahat, agreed to speak with Lehava activists. Abu Sajir, Sheetrit told Anat Gopstein, had already begun to exhibit violent behavior, threatening her and throwing chairs and flipping over tables to express anger at her.
“[H]e threw a table, threw a chair, threw things, but she had not been hit - yet,” Anat Gopstein said.
After a long conversation with Anat, Sheetrit left Rahat and moved to an apartment operated by Lehava for women seeking refuge following relationships with Arab men.
Last week, just days before the Rosh Hashanah holiday, Sheetrit expressed her desire to publicly renounce Islam and return to Judaism. At her request, the Gopstein’s held a small ceremony for Sheetrit in synagogue, releasing footage of the event on social media.
Back to Rahat
Just days after having renounced Islam, however, Sheetrit moved back in with Abu Sajir.
According to Bentzi Gopstein, Sheetrit returned home for the Rosh Hashanah holiday, but by the end of the week she had left her mother’s house for Rahat to reconcile with Abu Sajir.
“Last week [Sheetrit] wanted to repent [from her conversion to Islam],” Gopstein wrote on Facebook.
“Noy requested that we film her coming back to Judaism, and that’s what we did. She was in our safe house. Before the [Rosh Hashanah] holiday, we advised her to stay and receive counselling and professional treatment, but she wanted to go to her mother’s home, which she did, since we don’t force anyone to stay.”
“On the eve of the holiday, she sent us a very touching message thanking us. Unfortunately, however, by the end of the holiday, she blocked us. We waited, and got in contact with her family, but with no success so far.”
Since then, says Gopstein, Sheetrit publicized new photos on her social media accounts of herself with Abu Sajir.
“We didn’t go public [with her decision] until she chose to put up pictures of herself with the Arab.”
While Sheetrit herself ultimately chose to remain with her Arab partner, Gopstein noted that because of her publicity her story received, four other young women reached out to Lehava and moved into the Lehava safe house.
“Since the story of Noy’s return to Judaism went public and because of its publicity, we were able to bring four girls back to the Jewish people; they’re now in Lehava apartments. In addition, we’ve started working on another 16 cases which were brought to our attention this week.”