Born into a devout Muslim family from the central Israeli city of Lod, Yaron Avraham was the 12th of 18 children in his family.
In a recent interview, Avraham described his life story, including his conversion to Judaism.
As a youth, Avraham was forced by his older brothers to leave his family and move to the Gaza Strip, after his brothers murdered one of his sisters as an “honor killing”.
Fearful he might implicate them, the brothers sent Avraham off to the coastal enclave, where he lived for five years at a local mosque which hosted radical Muslims and terrorists, including members of the Taliban and ISIS.
“There I learned all of the lessons of the Koran by heart. For years, we went through intense spiritual and mental training, about how to become a martyr, which we were told is our purpose in life.”
Avraham described the intense, and often traumatic lessons he received about heaven and hell, reward and punishment, and martyrdom – lessons which were often accompanied by tours of cemeteries.
“After that kind of lesson you can’t fall asleep for the next few days. They were very traumatic.”
The lessons, he continued, included frequent anti-Semitic incitement to violence.
“The reward for someone who murders Jews, they say, is greater than all other murderers. The fact that Jews exist in the world prevents the redemption from happening.”
Eventually, Avraham decided to try to leave the mosque he had called home and leave the Gaza Strip. He cited, among other things, the years of abuse he suffered at the hands of the community’s “discipline coordinator”.
“I decided that I don’t want to live in the mosque anymore. After I spoke with the coordinator, he took a wooden rod and started to beat me mercilessly. In response, without even thinking about what I was doing, I took a copy of the Koran and kicked it at him. As punishment, I received 60 lashes all over my body.”
Following the incident, Avraham was transferred to another mosque, this time in the town of Yatta, a Hamas stronghold south of Hebron in Judea. He lived there for a year and a half, before running away.
Avraham initially sought shelter with his family, but left after just two weeks, and found himself living in a Muslim cemetery in Lod.
“It was frightening, but that was nothing new to me. Death wasn’t a stranger.”
Avraham spent ten days in the cemetery, fearing that one of his relatives could target him for fleeing the mosques he had lived at.
“It was a terrible period. Total darkness at night, fear and danger. I reached the point where there was nothing more to fear.”
Avraham’s first encounter with a Jew took place at a nut and dry fruit shop in Lod. The Jewish man he met aided him, and gave him a ride to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station.
“To me, he was an angel. It’s thanks to him that I’m alive today. He gave me money and put me on a bus to Eilat.”
After finding work in Tel Aviv, Avraham decided he wanted to give something back to Israeli society, and tried to enlist in the IDF.
While the army was initially reluctant to accept him, Avraham was persistent. “I’m not the kind who gives in easily.”
Eventually, Avraham was able to enlist, and served in the Givati Brigade.
His service ultimately brought him back to the Gaza Strip, returning to the coastal enclave as an Israeli soldier, three and a half years after he was expelled from the mosque he had called home.
At one point, Avraham returned to the same neighborhood he had lived in, standing just a few hundred yards from his former mosque, and spotted the discipline coordinator who had beaten him years earlier.
“I lost my cool, I was angry, nervous, and wanted revenge – everything you can think of. Without thinking twice I raised by gun and cocked it, and one moment before I opened fire [on the mosque’s discipline coordinator], I told my commanding officer ‘I’m going to kill him’. I was covered in sweat and as nervous as could be.”
The commanding officer talked Avraham down, and took his gun, defusing the situation.
“At the end of the day, it was an IDF officer who saved the life of the man who taught me to murder Jews. That was the moment when I realized that I want to be part of this people. I understood that I want to dedicate my life to something other than death; I want to be a part of a people that is dedicated to sanctifying life.”
After completing his service in the IDF, Avraham returned to Tel Aviv, where he studied to become a chef, before moving to Jerusalem, where he studied at the Machon Meir yeshiva.
It was at the yeshiva that Avraham underwent his conversion to Judaism.
“Some say it is a difficult process, but I think that if you’re doing something out of love and a true desire, it will never really be difficult.”
After his conversion, Avraham got married and had two daughters.
While he no longer is in touch with his Muslim relatives, he recently visited a Lod synagogue located just a few hundred yards from his parent’s home.
“I have no connection with them. I don’t know what is happening with them. But it is important for me to forgive them for why my parents did.”
Regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, Avraham is convinced the roots of the conflict are entirely religious.
“Anyone who thinks otherwise is mistaken, including high-ranking people who think this is a conflict over territory. Yesterday, [Jihadists] slaughtered a police officer in France. He wasn’t occupying a single inch of land in Judea and Samaria, and hadn’t harmed a single Muslim. And they slaughter each other in Syria and Lebanon and elsewhere, simply over religious differences.”