Former thug who found Judaism hopes to be first African-American in the Knesset
26-year-old Marcus Hardie was dubbed by his L.A. gang 'American Thug;' today he is an Orthodox lawyer who enlisted in the IDF as a combat soldier and has his eyes set on politics.
Marcus Hardie grew up in an African-American community in Los Angeles, where his nickname was "American Thug."
"I was a tough gangster," he says.
But after a religious awakening that brought him to Judaism and eventually led him to immigrate to Israel, his street name changed to "American Faith." In his recently published autobiography, Hardie recounts his journey from the streets of an inner-city ghetto in California to Israeli yeshivas, Ehud Olmert's office and the battlefields of the second intifada.
He already knows which Hollywood stars he wants to play his character if his memoirs are turned into a movie. Currently working as a lawyer in California, he is planning to return to Israel soon, with one specific goal: election to the Knesset.
"I was raised by my grandmother - she was a religious Christian and used to anoint my head with oil and give me blessings," Hardie, 39, told Anglo File recently during a phone interview. A "troubled youth in America's violent inner city," as he described himself, Hardie joined a gang his cousin had started. But after his cousin died during a burglary, Hardie quit the gang life and looked for meaning elsewhere.
"I became interested in the Jewish tradition because my grandmother had me reading the Bible. I read about the Jews coming out of Egypt and I became interested in the people of Israel," he recalled. "After I got into college I started talking to a rabbi and he questioned me about why I was interested in Jewish tradition. I told him that I was interested in being a part of the chosen people."
Hardie underwent three conversions: first with Reform, then with Conservative and finally, in 1997, with Orthodox rabbis. After graduating law school, he worked for California Governor Pete Wilson.
In 1999, Hardie immigrated to Israel, a country he had visited only once before. For about six months, he studied at a Jerusalem yeshiva and interned for Ehud Olmert, who was then the capital's mayor.
In 2000, the 26-year-old Hardie enrolled in the Israel Defense Forces' elite Golani Brigade.
"I was getting fired upon at one point in Jenin," he recalled. "It was pretty dangerous stuff."
Because he was a lawyer, Hardie was transferred to the army's legal department. "But after six months of being a jobnik," he said, using army slang for non-combat soldiers, "I decided I wanted to do more combat."
He was transferred to the army's armored division, where he drove and loaded tanks near Israel's northern borders and later manned checkpoints in the West Bank.
After the army, Hardie moved to the Ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak to work as a security guard.
"I lived among the yeshivas, the Haredim and I was learning Torah too," Hardie said.
While he had adopted an Orthodox lifestyle back in 1997, he became even more religious in Bnei Brak. "One of my favorite cities in Israel to this day is still Bnei Brak. I love Orthodox Jews and the Jewish community there. I love spending time with the rabbis, I love davening and praying."
In 2004, Hardie returned to America for a woman, but the relationship didn't work out, and he is still single.
"Although I'm back in the U.S., I still consider myself Israeli and I still study Torah every day," Hardie said. "I'm both American and Israeli. But I'd say I feel more Israeli."
That feeling figures in his plans to return to Israel in the next two years and get involved in politics.
"I want to become the first African-American member of Knesset," he said. "I think I can do it because I served in the army, I did reserve duty, I speak Hebrew, I'm a member of Likud and I'm still active in politics," he said.
Hardie is currently working on a Middle East peace plan, which calls for a de-militarized Palestinian state with Ramallah as its capital.
In the meantime, Hardie is looking for Hollywood producers interested in turning his 320-page autobiography "Black and Bulletproof: An African-American Warrior in the Israeli Army," published last year by New Horizon Press, into a movie. As actors for the lead role he suggests Will Smith, Jamie Foxx or Denzel Washington. "I think it would be great if we could get Steven Spielberg to direct it," he said.