Muslim newlywed who passed as Jewish wants to convert in Israel

The man known as Eliyah Hawila says he simply wanted to be Jewish.

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

A Lebanese Muslim man who duped a Sephardic Jewish girl from Brooklyn into marrying him by passing himself off as Jewish has spoken out, asking for understanding. He also expressed hope that his bride would accept him, and that he could convert legitimately.

Far from intending to deceive anyone, he says he merely wanted to be accepted as Jewish. However, Yeshiva World News, who he has accused him of being “unethical” in revealing his story, has published a statement expressing disappointment that he seemingly did not understand the pain his deception caused to his bride and the community.

According to early reports, the couple had only been married a few weeks when the wife, who has not been named, became suspicious of her husband, known as Eliyah Haliwa. The family believed ‘Eliyah’ was Jewish as he presented as Orthodox and spoke Hebrew. He also claimed to have connections with Chabad of Texas University.

Yeshiva World News initially reported that the subterfuge was exposed when his new wife found his Lebanese passport with his legal name in it. She was then reported to have reached out to friends and family who took her to a safe house.

Speaking to Talkline With Zev Brenner in a podcast that aired Motzei Shabbat, Haliwa explained that the deception had in fact started earlier, prompting him to build a web of lies to cover his tracks.

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Earlier this year when the couple were dating, Haliwa took the girl to a gun range and the pair were asked to present ID. It was then that she first discovered that Haliwa was not his legal name. He told her he worked for the National Security Agency, a story the girl apparently believed.

Following the wedding, his father in law appears to have become suspicious, as he Googled Hawila’s last name. It was then the family discovered that, far from being a Lebanese Jew, Hawila was born into a Shi’ite Muslim family.

“They went crazy,” he told Brenner. “I wanted to cover things up so I lied more and more. I was afraid they were taking her away from me, I’m finally living a Jewish life. She’s the love of my life and they’re going to take her away.”

He added: “They took her away from me. I was struggling for a week so I can make up something so I can get my wife back and my Jewish life back. I started making up names, making up insane stories.”

Haliwa told Brenner that he first began to pass as a Jew because, growing up in a Muslim household, he had felt a spiritual emptiness.

“In 2014, when I was in high school, someone came to my school and spoke about world religions and I decided I wanted to explore religion due to my spiritual emptiness,” he explained.

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Haliwa felt drawn to Judaism, reading the texts and teaching himself Hebrew. “I decided that I wanted to be Jewish and I started telling people this. Then people started spitting on me on the street and I got death threats. My father threatened not to bring me to America if I continued so I began laying low.”

Later he moved to Texas, using the move as an opportunity to further explore Judaism. He claimed to have contacted a Reform synagogue but that they never got back to him, leaving him feeling more rejected.

Upon enrolling at Texas A&M University, he again used the opportunity to explore Judaism, first approaching Hillel House who asked him if he was Jewish. He answered that he was, due to fears that they too would reject him otherwise. “I didn’t know any better,” he said.

He also attended the Chabad House where again he was asked if his mother was Jewish, and he answered that she was. “It pains me that I lied to the Chabad Rav and no one should blame him,”  he said. “They should blame me but they should understand my pain.”

Desiring to live a fully Jewish life, Haliwa began dating Jewish girls, eventually connecting online with the girl he would marry in January, and flying to New York to meet with her.

Asked by Brenner if he really believed he could sustain his lie about being Jewish permanently, he replied: “All I was thinking about was that I didn’t want to lose her.”

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Prompted by Brenner to consider the pain he had caused her, he replied: “I will beg her for forgiveness for the rest of my life and beg for a second chance.”

He added: “I am begging anybody to convert me and I prefer to be converted in Israel.”

During the course of the podcast Hawila mentioned that he is considering filing charges of harassment against Yeshiva World News for being “unethical” in its reporting of his case.

In a statement published to their website, Yeshiva World News commented: “Although Haliwa seemed to have genuinely developed an interest in Judaism, he engaged in extremely unethical behavior when instead of making the effort to convert, he began lying about his background due to the fear of being rejected by his Jewish friends. And then when he was ready to date, he registered on a Jewish dating site and continued lying despite the fact that he was well aware that Jews are prohibited from marrying non-Jews.

“Hawila repeatedly portrayed himself as the victim rather than the people he deceived. He did pay lip service to being sorry for lying but didn’t seem to understand how unethical his behavior was, how damaging his actions were to those around him and how much pain he caused other people, especially the girl he married, due to his intentional deceit.”