Kan 11 News correspondent Roi Kais spoke on Sunday with Eliya Hawila, the Lebanese Muslim man who claimed to be a Jew and married a Sephardic Jewish woman from Brooklyn.
The revelations came shortly after Eliya’s wedding, and resulted in the couple separating.
In the interview, his first with an Israeli media outlet, Hawila said that he fell in love with Judaism, but also acknowledged that his lies had gotten out of control.
“My lying is not justified,” he made clear, “but at the same time, I lied because I was in pain. But I want to correct my mistake and I want them to understand where my pain is coming from.”
He recalled growing up in Lebanon, where he never felt connected to the Muslim religion. As a high school student, he embarked on a journey to find another religion to connect to.
A search on Google found a PDF copy of the Tanakh and Hawila said, “I felt that this is right. This feels like the word of God. So I started looking up even more and more.”
As he learned more and more about Judaism, he found himself at odds with his family and his surroundings in southern Lebanon.
“I started coming out to people and saying ‘I’m Jewish’. People started spitting on me in the street. People started sending me death threats,” said Hawila.
In 2015, Hawila moved to the US with his family, where he hoped to start a new life as a Jew. When his request to convert to Judaism was denied by a Houston synagogue, “I started just saying I’m Jewish. My name is Eliya, and this is the name I chose for myself because I love the story of Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet).”
Asked if he has any regrets about his deception, he responded, “The guilt that I had felt initially, it grew in a way, but at the same time, I got used to it. It’s working pretty well.”
After he got married, his new wife’s family continued to grow suspicious of Hawila. The bride’s father Googled his last name and reached Hawila’s father.
“My father starts telling him stuff about me, telling him ‘No, he’s not Jewish’. So I started making even more stuff up. I was panicking. Then they took her away from me. They separated her from me,” Hawila said in tears.
The bride’s family turned to the FBI and asked them to investigate whether Hawila was a member of a terrorist organization. Those suspicions were proven to be unfounded but today, Hawila has been outcast from the Jewish community in Brooklyn.
“I would never go back [to Lebanon]. I don’t want to. I just want to convert, and I want to live a Jewish life. I want to convert in Israel. I don’t want to convert here,” he stated.