Bentzi Gopshtain and Noy Sheetrit (Image credit: Facebook page of Bentzi Gopshtain)
Noy Sheetrit, a young Jewish woman from Ashkelon, shook Israel under a month ago when video was spread of her conversion to Islam and engagement to a Bedouin Muslim man on the Temple Mount – the holiest site in Judaism.
On Monday, she returned to her people and her faith, thanks to the dedicated work of the anti-assimilation group Lehava.
In a video posted on Monday night, Lehava Director Bentzi Gopshtain is seen standing with Sheetrit in a synagogue holding a Torah scroll, and formally sealing her return to Judaism.
In the video, Gopshtain explained: "We are before Rosh Hashanah now, when we all repent, and we have a holy Jew here who wants to repent. She wants first of all to ask forgiveness from the people of Israel and the Holy One Blessed be He." Sheetrit, choked with emotion, could only nod to express herself.
"We worked night and day," added Gopshtain, noting that a number of Lehava activists made great efforts "to return her to the people of Israel. Thank G-d, Noy is returning."
He then led her in "receiving the yoke of Heaven," instructing her in reciting “Shema Yisrael” and “Adonai is G-d” to the sound of Shofar blasts meant to awaken repentance, and had her kiss the Torah to complete her return to the Jewish faith.
From Desecration to Sanctification
Gopshtain's wife Anat, who helps him lead Lehava, spoke to radio host Sharon Gal on Tuesday morning during his program on Galey Yisrael about the rescue (the interview can be heard in Hebrew here, from 7:25 - 18:33).
"I brought a lot of girls back to Judaism, but this time the joy is a lot greater because of the desecration of G-d’s name that was caused in her converting to Islam on the Temple Mount, the holiest site of the people of Israel," said Anat Gopshtain. She noted that the desecration was corrected with sanctification of G-d's name in Sheetrit's return.
Gopshtain posted a short video clip of Sheetrit reciting psalms after rejoining her people.
In the interview, Gopshtain was asked how Lehava got involved and explained: "On the day she converted to Islam I already got a phone call from the family. The family was very confused and didn’t know what to do, the mother was very broken. We guided the family and slowly we got closer to Noy, thanks to volunteers."
These volunteers went and talked with Sheetrit even while she was living at her fiance's house in Rahat, a Bedouin city in the Negev. He was aware of the contact, but they managed to talk with her nonetheless.
"[In] every relationship like this, he (i.e., the Arab husband) threatens, he hits, and we just exposed his [true] face," said Gopshtain. She detailed that Sheetrit underwent "psychological violence mostly; he threw a table, threw a chair, threw things, but she had not been hit yet."
"I asked about the future and she started to cry"
Asked about how long it took for Sheetrit to understand the gravity of her situation, Gopshtain noted that the uproar on the internet caused by her conversion made Sheetrit introspect quickly and consider what she had done.
The moment of Sheetrit's return to her people came this week.
"I met her on Sunday night, I spoke with her, I asked her a few challenging questions,” Gopshtain said, noting the meeting was held in Ashkelon where Sheetrit's mother was able to take her despite the monitoring and limitations her fiance had placed on her movement.
"I asked her where she sees herself in another couple of years, and she just started to cry. …It was a very long conversation through the night, and by the morning she was in a Lehava apartment," she said. Gopshtain explained that the apartment is set up to help her rehabilitate with professional counseling, and she is staying there with other young women who have undergone similar experiences.
According to Gopshtain, Sheetrit had recognized she had no future with her fiance in Rahat but did not know how to fix what she had done, or if there was even a possibility of "atonement" for what she had done. Making things easier, Sheetrit had converted to Islam but had not yet undergone a formal marriage.
However, while the young Jewish woman has been rescued from her fiance's abusive environment, Gopshtain noted she still maintains a level of "ambivalence" similar to that of anyone who is addicted to something, as she still has feelings for her fiance. The Lehava activist expressed her hopes that the counseling and embrace of the group will help Sheetrit overcome her ordeal, and asked the public to pray for Noy bat Sigal.
In a final question, Gopshtain was asked about Sheetrit's hardest moment at her fiance's house, and noted her life there was far from peachy. Her fiance shouted and threw things; he did not tell her that he has another wife and children, and then said he would divorce his wife before later backtracking on his promise and refusing; and when she asked him if he would convert to Judaism to be with her, he flatly refused.
After her rescue, Sheetrit was also pictured on Facebook wearing a Lehava T-shirt together with Koral Ben Shabat, a Lehava activist who herself was rescued by the group from her relationship with a violent Arab Muslim. The picture would seem to testify that Sheetrit is receiving the kind of support she needs to put the incident behind her and come out of it stronger and more dedicated to the Jewish people and faith.
Koral Ben Shabat and Noy Sheetrit (Image credit: Facebook page of Bentzi Gopshtain)
Bentzi Gopshtain with Noy Sheetrit (Image credit: Facebook page of Bentzi Gopshtain)