A particularly exciting wedding took place last weekend on the beach of Rishon Lezion. The couple - Dor and Edith Shachar, both converts, were married in accordance to Jewish law.
Shahar's story begins more than 40 years ago, in Khan Yunis in Gaza, when his name was still Ayman Subah.
"I was born in Khan Yunis to a Palestinian family," Shahar told Arutz Sheva. "I remember my five brothers and sisters, the three-floor building we shared with the entire family, with us on the second floor."
“I remember myself at the age of six playing in the streets of Khan Yunis hiding from bigger boys or getting beaten up. There wasn't anything besides that,” he says. "My dream was to go to school because I wanted to become a doctor."
"Then school started and after some time, a very tall woman wearing a suit stepped into the classroom. The teacher announced that today, we would have a special lesson. I was very excited at the prospects of finally learning medicine."
"The special lesson turned out to be a lesson in hating Jews. It started out like this: 'The Jews are murderers; men, women and children. They took your grandparents' land. It is permissible to fight them, and killing them is your religious duty. Whoever kills a Jew enters heaven and receives 72 virgins. Haifa and Jerusalem belonged to your forefathers and they belong to us. You must fight till the last drop of blood to get the land back. The Jews were once Muslims and some Muslims became infidels and became Jews and Christians and are allowed to be killed, because whoever does not believe in the religion of Muhammad is sentenced to death.'"
Shachar says his "soul is that of a Jew entrapped in the body of an Arab." He says that after the lecture that day, he didn't feel well and asked the teacher to use the bathroom. "The teacher immediately slapped me, saying that 'in such a special class, you don't leave the room.'"
"You can always see what is bothering a child. He picked me up and took me to the principal's room and whispered something in his ear. The principal told me to walk around with my face to the wall and I had no idea what he was going to do to me. Then I felt a blow to the back. It was a rubber whip used for horses. An incredible shock of pain. Then he told me to go home and have my father accompany me to school the next day. I still have the scar from that beating. I came home crying."
As the years went by, Shachar says he was "always out of luck," constantly running away from school that taught hatred. At one point his father took him to work at his construction site. "At the age of 12 and a half I started working and planned that one day, my father would get up and not find me. I worked for three months, during which we would leave our homes on Sunday and stay in Israel till the weekend. One morning, when he woke up, I wasn't there," he recalls.
"I started working as a security guard," he says. "Israeli Arabs would get the jobs and give it to the children. I watched over a neighborhood of villas where prospective tenants would come to see the apartments."
Thanks to the job he found, Shachar found a man who later adopted him and accompanies him to this day. "One of them was religious, his name was Nissim Ozen," he says. "He took interest in me. He brought me home with him, got me clothes, shoes, and whatnot. Even a stereo with a music disc."
After a while, Ozen invited Shachar to a Passover Seder. Shachar describes his encounter with the Jewish holiday as one of great surprise. "I lived on a construction site and when Nissim moved into the new house, he invited me for the holiday," says Shachar. "I didn't know anything about the holiday and my Hebrew wasn't very good. He said it was Passover. He went and bought me white shirts and pants. I came over in the evening and saw a long table laden with delicious food, with everyone in white, no bread in sight, couscous and salads. He told me the story about the Jewish people's slavery in Egypt, how they were liberated by the Almighty, and how today, we are a free People in our Land."
That Passover was not only the first Jewish holiday Shachar encountered, but also the first time he voiced his conviction of wanting to become a Jew. "I did not know Hebrew properly then, but what came out of my mouth was 'I want to be a Jew,'" he says. "He (Nissim Ozen, 13) told me, 'No, a Jew is born a Jew and remains a Jew. An Arab is born an Arab and remains an Arab.' I wasn't convinced and went to the neighbor after the meal. I told her I wanted to be a Jew and she directed me to the local rabbinate."
Shachar had no concept of what a "rabbinate" meant, but after a long process of learning and personal inquiries, he finally converted with the help of Rabbi Tzafania Drori of Kiryat Shmona.
Shachar met his wife Edith on Facebook. At first, after several unsuccessful attempts to contact her, he stopped trying. A few days later, she got back to him and told him she was not interested "but maybe he could get to know one of her friends." "I told her I wanted to meet, but she politely declined. Two hours later, she got back to me and agreed to a date," he recalls. Their courtship lasted about eleven months until last weekend, the couple's unique journey came to a happy conclusion as the two were wed "according to the laws of Moses and Israel."
Edith also happens to be a convert to Judaism from the Hungarian town of Ózd.
"The rabbi told me to get married in the month of Elul, the month of mercy and forgiveness," says Shachar. "The wedding ceremony was held on the beach in Rishon Lezion, in collaboration with the municipality and local rabbinical council. It was modest, with the participation of family and close friends. My father is Nissim Ozen; my brothers are his sons."
Shachar maintains no connection with his biological family and views the Ozens as his true blood relatives. Asked if he would ever consider renewing the relationship with his family, he replies: "The connection with them does me no good. When children are raised to hate and not love, I do not want such a relationship."
In the future, Shachar hopes to produce a movie about his life beginning in Khan Yunis, where he will recall "being taught to murder Jews, about the 'Palestinian prison' with seven levels of hell, and about what it is like to have a Jewish soul and boundless love."