NOVEMBER 16, 2017 – Even with traffic noise in the background and a spotty cell connection that cuts in and out, the voice comes through, confident and articulate. Yahya Mahamid, 20, a self-described Arab Zionist from Israel, is squeezing in another interview as he is driven between a quick bite to eat and his next speaking engagement in Florida.
His delivery in accented but fluent English is precise and passionate. He is on a mission, a peace mission, and he is unfalteringly focused.
A question about what it’s been like for him on his speaking tour is met with an exclamation of “Amazing!” followed by a rapid-fire list of cities, schools, community centers, and synagogues where he has presented in recent weeks since arriving in the United States following stops in four Canadian cities.
What did he like most about America so far? Getting a chance to meet and talk with so many amazing young people. He is sincere, and always on message.
Mahamid is on a jam-packed two-month speaking tour for the educational nonprofit StandWithUs that will take him to 10 states. Before he returns to Israel, he will visit Marblehead on Nov. 19 for “Discovering My Truth: An Evening with Yahya Mahamid” at Temple Sinai.
He is an intelligent young man who communicates with warmth and honesty. His message is simple and consistent: Israel is his country, his home, a democratic nation of which he is proud to be a citizen.
Growing up in Umm al-Fahm, an Arabic city southeast of Haifa at the edge of the 1949 border, he received an education that distorted history and promoted hate and distrust toward Israel and Jews. His world grew and his worldview began to change after finishing high school, when he started work as a busboy in Tel Aviv and was accepted by Jewish Israelis.
He is multilingual and polished his English by watching American movies. He speaks with pride of success in reaching non-Jewish audiences, especially teenagers, and is particularly sanguine about the power of social media to “cut out the middle man” and reach younger people directly. “We reach some five million people in eighteen languages,” he says, speaking on behalf of StandWithUs.
“We reach some 5 million people in 18 languages,” he says, speaking on behalf of StandWithUs.
A question about what his family and friends in Umm al-Fahm think of his activism is met with a stiff response. He is protective and does not want to talk about others back home. A 2014 Facebook posting of him holding an Israeli flag garnered attacks and death threats but also started him on the path that led him to speaking on a world stage.
Does he fear fallout from his stance? “I do worry some, but I have a security team of 5,000 Jewish mothers.”
The interview is punctuated by occasional whispered prompts from one of his local hosts in the car. When asked about his tastes in music, he ticks off an eclectic list: Arabic, rock, pop, Beethoven. American music? It’s unclear whether the off-stage prompt of Katy Perry is serious or a tease. Twenty One Pilots? “Oh, I love them, absolutely love them, but I didn’t know they were American.”
Yahya may be one of Israel’s most likeable, most persuasive spokesmen in these divisive times. He is a turnaround icon, a Muslim Israeli who discovered a larger reality and is eager to share his story.
In December, he heads home, where he will be joining the Israel Defense Forces. Under Israeli law, he is exempt from service, but he wants to help defend his country. He joins the small but growing band of Muslim Arabs who serve in the armed forces of Israel, the country that is also theirs.
Yahya Mahamid will be at Temple Sinai in Marblehead at 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 19. The event, sponsored by the Lappin Foundation and StandWithUs, is free and open to the public. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-740-4431.