My Life in Israel Blog

A New Face in Mea Sharim


One wintry night back in early 2018 I attended a talk at the Jerusalem Press Club, just steps away from my house. Living so close to the JPC, I feel almost as if it’s an extension of my house,  and Mordechai Ben Avraham, who gave the talk that night, was there with a special connection to me. Not that it’s logical. He’s from Los Angeles. I’m from New York. I’m a generation older than him too. But I sat mesmerized as Mordechai–formerly Shariff Hasan and now an Orthodox Jew, talked about his journey from Islam to Kabbalah and then the leap to Orthodox conversion. I took notes. I recorded his voice. And a year later, I wrote up Mordechai’s story for the Jerusalem Post.

What does Mordechai’s story have to do with my own? I think our stories are intertwined if we look closely enough. In fact, all of our stories are intertwined at the root. That’s what makes Torah study so compelling. The connections are all inside Torah.

Being in Japan for so long, I know what it feels like to make a radical lifestyle shift and question my identity by visiting deep inside Japanese culture before returning to my own.

What makes Mordechai’s story so compelling for me is this certainty he has that he belong with the Jewish people. This inner knowing that he is exactly where he needs to be for soul growth in this lifetime — a Jew living amongst observant Jews —  is pretty awesome. In this way, Mordechai and I are thinking the same. To live amongst observant Jews takes so much pressure off the explaining, justifying and compromising that goes on when you’re the only person in the room who won’t touch the light switch on Shabbat. And more.

When you live amongst your people, there’s another profound revelation that I think Mordechai and I share–and that is a feeling of comfort in your own skin. That means there’s more authentic “me” to share.

The journey of converts to Judaism bares so many parallels with the path of the baal teshuva, people like me who leave secular life to become observant Jews. It’s no wonder that we are able to finish each others’ sentences.