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From Khan Yunis to Judaism

Shahar Yitzchak Amnon dreamt of becoming a Jew but almost didn’t live to see the day…

| 05.06.17 | 16:32
Illustration / Shutterstock
Amnon was born in Khan Yunis to a strong Muslim family with 5 brothers and sisters and spent most of his early childhood in the streets playing soccer. “There wasn’t any intifada as of yet and I wasn’t afraid of Israeli soldiers”, Amnon relates. “The soldiers used to play soccer with us and one of them even gave me a candy; I still remember its sweetness today. When my father asked me where I got the candy from I told him it was from an Israeli soldier. He shouted at me and told me never to take candies from Israeli soldiers, they put poison into them.”

Every time Amnon heard the word Jews he was curious. “Once a teacher came into class and told us that the Jews stole the lands of their grandparents and that Haifa and Tel Aviv belong to the Arabs. The teacher also said whoever kills Jews is a holy person and that Jews are scary creatures with 3 legs!  I didn’t want to be in the class so the teacher took me to the principal’s office where they whipped me with a horse whip. The next day they invited my father down to the school and told him what I did. He was furious and slapped me in front of everyone and shouted at me saying if they tell me to kill Jews I need to do it.”

A Passover Seder changes everything

That incident was carved into his heart but it wasn’t the only one that made him doubt the religion his family and all his friends believed in. “They continued to poison us against Jews but it didn’t work with me. It just didn’t make sense. They told me about the 3 legs but all I saw was 2. I was 7 years old and I can’t explain how I saw things differently. I just think I saw things in a more spiritual way.” As he got older he got to know Jews better and better and it became more and more difficult for him to stay home until he got into a big fight with his father and ran away.

“I knew Israeli Arabs that worked on a construction site and slept there and I became their friends. They would give me 50 shekel a night to watch the site and I would take over for them. They later included me in their group and I started working in construction. I was lucky that I didn’t need to show papers to anyone, I just lived life.”

“Everything was fine until a Jew named Mr. M. came along and heard my life story and took it to heart. The next day he already brought me clothing, food and other good things. He started befriending me and one day he brought me holiday clothes and invited me to his Passover Seder. When I saw the whole family around the large beautiful table I was enchanted and I told my host I wanted to become Jewish. I was very disappointed when he told me it was impossible and that Muslims stay Muslims and Jews stay Jews. I told him I can’t accept that and I’m prepared to do everything I can to become a Jew.”

Indeed Amnon didn’t give up and kept ‘bothering’ his friend Mr. M. until he set Amnon up to meet the rabbi of Ramat Gan. “The rabbi asked me why I wanted to be a Jew and I answered that I wanted to become part of the chosen nation. He liked my answer but asked me to get a letter from my family since I was still a minor. I told them I was not in touch with my family many months and I was prepared to wait until I’m 18 so I wouldn’t need a letter. When I became 18 I went to the Rabbi who explained to me that I need a permit to stay in Israel.  This was problematic so I let the whole thing go for a while.”

One day Amnon was injured at his construction site and was checked into the hospital. When they asked for his ID card the authorities discovered he was illegally in Israel and as soon as they were able he was sent to the Palestinian side of the checkpoint in Gaza.

“They took me to the police station and after making me wait 3 hours took me into an interrogation room and hung me up from my feet and started beating my legs. They accused me of being a collaborator with Israel”.

He was tortured for 2 weeks in a dark cell but when the interrogators saw he wasn’t admitting to anything they released him. “When I was released and alone in Gaza,” Amnon relates, ‘it was clear to me that I couldn’t stay there. It was harder to sneak into Israel, but I managed and I went back to my adoptive family in Rishon Letzion. I told my ‘adoptive father’ that I want to become Jewish already and everything I went through only strengthened my resolve. When he saw the spark in my eyes he understood that I was serious and started to use his connections. After a long investigation the G.S.S. granted me a permit to stay in Israel and I began my conversion process which I finally completed at age 23.”

Today Amnon speaks to people similar to him who are considering converting to Judaism. But he has one precondition: “I tell them that being Jewish is more than just religion and you need a lot of strength to go through with it. I meet Muslims who want to become Jewish who come to me and I help them. But I explain to them that it has to come from inside them; I can’t cast a spell and make them Jewish. I’m also adamant with them that if they want to become Jewish they must keep the Torah and mitzvoth. If they don’t what’s the point?"