When I was born I was given the Hebrew name Melech
Yacov. Today I still live in the area in New York where I was born. We
were a semi-religious family; we belonged to a Chasidic congregation to
which we went every Saturday, but we did not keep all the strict
observances required in Chasidic Judaism.
For those who don't know,
Chasidism is known in the mainstream as "Ultra Orthodox" Judaism. They
are called so because of their strict observances of Halacha (Jewish Law) and their following of Jewish mysticism (cabala).
They are the strange people that you see walking down the street
wearing black suits and hats and letting their beards and sideburns grow
The Early Years
were not like that though. My family cooked and used electricity on the
Sabbath, and I didn't wear a yarmulke on my head. Moreover I grew up in
a secular environment surrounded by non-Jewish schoolmates and friends.
For many years I still felt guilty about driving on Saturdays and
eating non-kosher food.
Although I did not observe all of the
rules, I nevertheless felt a strong sense that this was the way that God
wanted me to live, and every time I omitted a rule, I was committing
sin in the eyes of God.
From the earliest days, my mother would
read to me the stories of the great Rabbis like Eliezar, the Baal Shem
Tov, and the legends from the Haggada (part of the Talmud other than the Halacha) and Torah.
of these stories had the same ethical message which helped me to
identify with the Jewish community, and later Israel. The stories showed
how Jews were oppressed throughout history, but God always stood by His
people until the end. The stories that we Jews were brought up on
showed us that miracles always saved the Jews whenever they were in
their greatest time of need. The survival of the Jews throughout
history, despite all odds, is seen as a miracle in itself.
|I began asking questions like: What exactly is a Jew anyway? Is Judaism a culture, a nation, or a religion?|
a person wants to take an objective view on why most Jews have the
irrational Zionist stance regarding Israel, then they must understand
the way by which we were indoctrinated with these stories as children.
That is why the Zionists pretend that they are doing nothing wrong at
all. All of the goyim (gentiles) are seen as enemies waiting to
attack, and thus they cannot be trusted. The Jewish people have a very
strong bond with one another and see each other as the "chosen people"
of God. For many years I believed this myself.
Although I had a strong sense of identity as a Jew, I could not stand going to Saturday services (shul). I still remember myself as a little boy being forced to go to shul
with my father. I remember how dreadfully boring it was for me and how
strange everyone looked with their black hats and beards praying in a
foreign language. It was like being thrown into a different world away
from my friends and the people I knew. This was what I thought I was
supposed to be, but I (and my parents) never adopted the Chasidic life
like the rest of my family.
When I turned 13, I was bar-mitzvahed like every other Jewish boy who becomes a man. I also began putting tefilin
(Hebrew amulets) on every morning. I was told that it is dangerous to
skip putting it on because it was like an omen and bad things might
happen to you. The first day I skipped putting on tefilin my mom's car got stolen! That event encouraged me to wear it for a long time.
was only a little while after my bar-mitzvah that my family stopped
going to synagogue altogether. They could not stand the three-and-a-half
hours of prayer and felt that getting me bar-mitzvahed was the most
important thing. Later on, my father got into a silly quarrel with some
congregation members, and we ended up not going at all to services
anymore. Then something strange happened: my father was convinced by a
friend to accept Jesus into his heart. God willingly my mother did not
divorce my father for his conversion to Christianity, but she has kept a
silent hatred of it ever since.
This was also a period in my
early-teen years when I sought to find something to identify with. My
father's conversion helped me question my own beliefs. I began asking
questions like: What exactly is a Jew anyway? Is Judaism a culture, a
nation, or a religion? If it is a nation, then how could Jews be
citizens of two nations? If Judaism is a religion, then why are the
prayers recited in Hebrew, prayers for Eretz Israel, and observance of
"Oriental" rituals? If Judaism was just a culture, then would not a
person cease to be a Jew if he stopped speaking Hebrew and practicing
If a Jew was one who observes the commandments of
the Torah, then why is Abraham called the first Jew when he lived before
the Torah came down to Moses? Incidentally, the Torah doesn't even say
he was a Jew; the word Jew comes from the name of one of Jacob's 12
sons, Judah. Jews were not called Jews until the Kingdom of Judah was
established after the time of Solomon.
|How could any good Jew deny that Palestinians were killed and forced from their land to make way for Jewish settlements?|
holds that a Jew is someone whose mother was Jewish. So you can still
be a Jew if you practice Christianity or atheism. More and more I began
to move away from Judaism. There were so many laws and mitzvahs (good deeds) to observe. What is the point of all these different rituals, I began to question. To me they were all man-made.
was fascinated with Native American culture and their bravery in the
face of the white settlers who stole their land. The Native Americans
had over 250 treaties broken with them, and they were given the worst
strips of land that no one wanted. The story of the Native Americans is
similar to that of the Palestinians.
The first Palestinians were
living in Palestine for thousands of years and suddenly Jews replaced
them, and the natives are forced into refugee camps in which they still
live. I asked my parents how the Palestinians are different from Native
Americans, and the only answer I got was "because they want to kill all
Jews and drive them into the sea."
My understanding of the
Palestinian people put me above any of the Jews, their leaders, and
Rabbis whom I once viewed as wise men. How could any good Jew deny that
Palestinians were killed and forced from their land to make way for
Jewish settlements? What justifies this act of ethnic cleansing – the
fact that many Jews died in the Holocaust! Or is it because the bible
says it’s "our" land? Any book that justifies such a thing would be
immoral and hence not of God.
Philosophy and the Search for Knowledge
I reached high school, I became interested in philosophy and read many
of the great thinkers of the past. I spent time with good friends who
read philosophy and who went along with me through the bumpy paths to
One of the philosophers who had an impact on me was the
Jewish-born Spinoza. Spinoza was a 17th century Talmudic student who
questioned everything he was taught such as the belief in life after
death, a belief that is found nowhere in the Torah. In fact many of the
early Jews didn't have such a belief. Spinoza was expelled from the
Jewish community for his views. I enjoyed reading his views on the
Bible, which he said could not be taken literally without a boat-load of
contradictions and problems.
|Although I gave up the fight for revolution, I became an active pro-Palestinian organizer.|
I read two significant books that completely swept away any ounce of
sympathy I had left for Judaism. The first book was called "On the
Jewish Question" by Abram Leon. Leon was an underground Communist
organizer in Belgium during World War II, and later he was caught and
died at Aushwitz. His book answered the age-old question: Why did the
Jews survive for so long? He gave a superb historical account of the
Jews from the age of antiquity to the modern day and shows that their
survival was by no means a miracle.
In the words of Karl Marx, "It
is not in spite of history that the Jews survive but because of it."
First, he shows how much of the Jewish community left Israel on their
own accord before the destruction of Jerusalem. Then he explains that
the Jews were valuable to the kings and nobles of the middle ages
because of their status as middle men. Then he shows how during the
process of capitalist accumulation the status of Jew finally took a
downward turn and they were subsequently persecuted for their usury.
second book that affected me greatly was called "Who Wrote the Bible?"
by Elliot Freedman. It takes up the historical task of Spinoza. The book
proves that the Torah is actually written by 4 different people.
Freedman explains to us that there were 2 different traditional accounts
from the Kingdom of Israel and Judah, and that a redactor intertwined
them together to get the Bible we have today.
reading philosophy with my friends, we also took up many different
political causes in our youth. We experimented in everything from
Republicanism to Communism. I took up reading all the works of Marx,
Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Trotsky.
I found in Marxism what I felt was
missing in my life. I believed that I had found all the answers to
everything and hence felt intellectually superior to everyone. The
philosophy bandits (as I like to call us) got together and formed our
own little Socialist club. We went to different activist events like
protests and labor strikes.
After meeting all the different cult
groups that surrounded the political left in America we all became
disgusted at the way they acted and denied reality. No revolution would
be made in a country by this type of people. Fighting for social change
cannot win by using methods of the past.
Although I gave up the
fight for revolution, I became an active pro-Palestinian organizer. This
is the one cause about which I was very passionate. We were very small
and attacked by the mainstream which gave me a sense of pride. I wanted
the world to know that not all Jews are bad people. It shames me to see
people whom I once looked up to support the aggressive regime of Israel.
The lies coming from Israel are nothing less than holocaust denial.
|I was surprised of how logically consistent the Qur’an was.|
I gave up Judaism and looked at this world as the ultimate aim of man, I
was never really an atheist. However, I had a strong hatred of all
religion and believed that it was a tool of the people in charge to use
to keep everyone else in check. When you see the way fundamentalist
Christians act in America, doing things like denying science and
upholding values of old white men, you can understand why I was
skeptical of all religions. The way Jews acted toward Palestinians did
not help either. Nevertheless, I still believed in God in the very back
of my mind. But with religion gone, I had a big emptiness left in me. I
sometimes even wished that I was a religious person because I felt that
they lived happier lives.
I do not remember what got me interested in Islam, especially after
many years of strong anti-religious feeling. As a child, I remember
hearing my mother talk about Islam, and how Muhammad (peace be upon him)
worshipped the same God as us, and also how Jews are related to Arabs
through Abraham. So in a way I kind of accepted Islam as just another
religion that worships God. I have a faint memory of my cousin (a
Chasid) who said to me that if a Jew gives up his life as a Jew and
lives like a Muslim, he wouldn't be committing any sin! Looking back I
am astonished to have heard such a thing.
When September 11th.
happened, there was a surge in anti-Islamic propaganda in the news.
From the very beginning, I knew that it was all lies because I already
had developed the perspective that everything in the media protects the
interests of those who control it. When I saw that the most militant
people in attacking Islam were fundamentalist Christians, Islam started
looking more attractive to me. I thank God for what I learned in my
activist days, because without the knowledge of society and the media, I
would have believed all the garbage that I heard about Islam on the
One day I remember hearing someone talk about
scientific facts in the Bible so I wondered if the Qur’an had scientific
facts in it. I did an Internet search and I discovered a lot of amazing
stuff. I subsequently spent a great deal of time consuming articles on
various aspects of Islam. I was surprised of how logically consistent
the Qur’an was.
As I read the Qur’an, I would compare its moral
message to that of what I learned from the Bible and understood how much
better it was. Also the Qur’an was not nearly as boring as reading the
Bible. It's fun to read. After about 5 months of intense study I said my
shahadah and officially became Muslim.
Unlike my old
religion, everything in Islam made sense. All the practices like prayer
and Ramadan I understood already. Although I imagined Islam to be like
Judaism in which one follows a series of different rules dogmatically, I
was wrong. My understanding of the world also matched what Islam taught
me – that all religions are basically the same but have been corrupted
by man over time. God didn't make a name called Judaism and Christianity
and tell people to worship Him. God taught the people only Islam; that
is submission to Him alone. It is as clear and simple as that.