mark-300x225Scranton, PA – Billed by organizers as a “Pocono Shabbat Getaway,” the Four Points Sheraton in Scranton is playing host to singles, couples and families of all backgrounds from across the Northeast, offering delicious glatt-kosher meals and guest lecture by Mark Halawa.
Born in Kuwait, Mark grew up in Jordan and spent two years of college in Latakia, Syria, fraught with partying and little studying. Later he left for Ontario, Canada to pursue his education seriously.
One day in the library at the University of Western Ontario, Mark met an old Jewish man. Intrigued by his appearance, with a long beard neatly pinned together, he asked him about his background. During the conversation the Rabbi, Dr. Yitzchok Block Professor of Philosophy from Harvard University, asked about Mark’s background. Halawa explained his family history and mentioned his grandmother’s story. Growing up, the family was told she was born Jewish, but after meeting their grandfather as a teen, she converted to Islam and was married. This was sufficient for the family to consider her Muslim; but Block had another idea.
“He told me, by Muslim law I am Muslim,” recounted Mark. “By Jewish law I am Jewish.” Block went on to explain the idea of matrilineal law, which says a person born of a Jewish mother is also a Jew. According to that tradition, not only was Mark’s maternal grandmother a Jew; but so was his own mother and therefore also himself.
The world seemed to spin; everything he had been told had been turned on its head. He argued with Block, explaining his grandmother had converted, so she was Muslim, not Jewish. “He told me a Jew can convert 10 times and would continue being a Jew.”

Confused and shocked he went home and googled Judaism and the law of matrilineal descent. He later called his mother and grandmother. His mom told him not to listen to the “missionary.” His grandmother simply refused to talk about it. Mark slowly learned more about Judaism. He quickly discovered many things he was taught as a child about Jews were simply not true. “Everything I learned about Jews and the western world was wrong,” he wrote on

Today, Mark goes by the name Mordechai, and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and daughter, embracing a life of Yiddishkeit. Mark also stays connected to his Arabs roots, working through social media toward educating and connecting with young Muslims, trying to undo the hate-filled propaganda they have been bombarded with all their lives.

“Professor Block simply told me that every Jew is born with a little Torah and a little Menorah in their heart,” Mark shared last week. “All it takes is for another Jew to bump into him and light it up.”

Shabbos @ the Four Points Sheraton is hosted by Chabad in Northeast Pennsylvania. Space is limited. or call 570-587-3300 for information.

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