The Outlandish Tale of the Man Who Briefly Duped a Tightknit Jewish Community—and His Wife—into Believing He Was One of Their Own

For the past few weeks, the American Orthodox media has been abuzz with the story of a young man who had been raised in a secular Shiite family in Tyre. Armin Rosen recounts his interview with its protagonist:

I had just arrived to meet Eliyah Hawila, whose legal name is Ali Hassan Hawila, at his fifth-floor chain-hotel room, a pocket of anonymous nonreality off a dismal highway near a demoralized city in upstate New York. Just days earlier, the Lebanese-born Hawila had been kicked out of Brooklyn’s famously tightknit Syrian Jewish community when it was discovered he had been lying about his Jewish heritage, a fib that smoothed the way to his recent marriage, conducted exactly one month earlier under the auspices of a respected Orthodox rabbi.

Upon discovery of Hawila’s true name and origins, which were radically different from what his bride and her family and nearly all of his Jewish and non-Jewish acquaintances over the previous three years had been led to believe, rabbis and family members prohibited his wife from living with him in the basement apartment they shared, which belonged to the grandson of the rabbi who had written their k’tubah [marriage contract]. Hawila was given around $1,500 and told to leave town.

The likely sincerity of Hawila’s need for and belief in Judaism doesn’t make his story any less unsettling. The allegation [that he was a Hizballah deep-cover operative] even began to look like a deliberate evasion of the saga’s recognizable human dimensions, which should discomfit anyone who takes belief and community seriously. Hawila ruined people’s lives, including possibly his own, in a quest for happiness and meaning. He isn’t a terrorist sleeper agent, but an embodiment of the destructive potential contained within any spiritual yearning.

Or so he seemed. “I had been warned by numerous people from more than one era in Hawila’s convoluted life,” Rosen writes, “not to trust a single thing he told me.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Conversion, Judaism, Lebanon, Syrian Jewry

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus