Eliya Hawila
Eliya HawilaKan 11 News

A Lebanese born man who found himself at the center of a scandal in Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community last year is in Israel now, and has declared his intentions to spend the rest of his life in the Jewish state.

In October 2021, Eliya Hawila married a young Syrian-Jewish woman in Brooklyn, New York in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony – despite having been raised in a Shi’ite Muslim family in southern Lebanon.

Shortly thereafter, Hawila’s bride and her family discovered his background, with the couple separating and news of the ‘Lebanese groom’ sending shockwaves through the Orthodox community.

Hawila later apologized for the deception, but insisted he is sincere in his desire to live as an Orthodox Jew, and said he hopes to reconcile with his estranged wife.

In early April 2022, however, a Brooklyn rabbi who investigates questions regarding Jewish ancestry found that Hawila was in fact born Jewish.

Rabbi Avraham Reich spoke with Hawila’s grandmother, and was able to verify that his maternal line is Jewish, which, under traditional Jewish law, makes Hawila a born Jew.

Hawila later underwent an Orthodox conversion le’chumra (as a precautionary measure) to remove any doubts of his Jewishness – a practice employed when the last four generations of a person’s most recent Jewish ancestors were not religiously observant.

Shortly after his story went public, Hawila declared that he hoped one day to move to Israel, saying he hoped to reunite with his wife there.

This month, following the discovery of his Jewish ancestry and the completion of his conversion, Hawila, now 24 years old, arrived in Israel for the first time.

Speaking with Behadrei Haredim at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Hawila said he plans to remain in Israel for the rest of his life, and still hopes to reconcile with his wife.

“I am happy to be here in Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel], Eretz HaKodesh [the Holy Land]. This is home, this is where I belong. This is everything that defines me. I am surrounded by my people, I am surrounded by an army and a police that protects me and cares for my existence. I am back from Galut [Exile].”

“The air feels different, everything about this place feels different. This is where I belong, and Bezrat Hashem [God-willing], I will stay here, live here, die here, be buried here, and be rejoined with my wife very soon.”

On Sunday, Israel’s Kan aired a special segment on Hawila’s arrival, with Kan’s Roi Kais following him from the airport as he entered the country on his Lebanese passport, to his hotel in Netanya.

“This is amazing. I’m in Eretz HaKodesh [the Holy Land], I’m in Netanya, right in front of me there’s the beach. What else could I ask for?”

When asked how he feels regarding rumors he could an agent of a hostile power, Hawila responded saying: “I was investigated by the ground-up at airport security. If there’s anything against me, bring it up, take me to jail, kill me.”

“Israel is my land, my homeland, my country, even though I don’t have an Israeli passport yet.”

How does Lebanon fit into his Jewish identity?

“I’ve been there, it is part of my story, it is part of what defines who I am. Plus, don’t forget, Lebanon is part of Eretz Yisrael Hashelima,” Hawila added, using the Hebrew term for the Greater Land of Israel. “Never forget that.”

To Islamic radicals in Lebanon, Hawila had this to say: “Screw you. Screw your ideology. Screw your racism, screw your anti-Semitism, screw your Nasrallah and your Nabih Berri.”

“I hope I have the merit one day to kill Hassan Nasrallah one day with my own hands.”

Hawila also discussed his mother’s Jewish ancestry, noting that while his maternal grandmother’s family hailed from a Syrian-Jewish family, a genetic test showed close links to Ashkenazi Jews.

“I took the DNA tests. I opened up my phone and I looked at the DNA tests, and I have haplogroup HV5, which is an extremely, extremely rare haplogroup that only the descendants from an Ashkenazi Jewish woman have.”

Hawila’s grandmother later told him that her great-grandmother’s name had been Sarah Dwek (also spelled ‘Dweck’).

“She was a Jew from Allepo,” Hawila said, quoting his grandmother. “During the 1800s she ran away with a Muslim guy named Ali Morad, and she married him in south Lebanon and he made her convert to Islam.”

Turning to his estranged wife, Hawila acknowledged that he “made a big mistake” by concealing his Muslim family from his bride, but called on his in-laws to “open their heart to see the facts”.

“She loves, me, I know she loves me.”