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

December 1, 2021 | Armin Rosen
About the author:

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.”

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