Jew-by-choice postpones aliyah to work for governor

On Aug. 6, Mark Hardie looked at his calendar somewhat longingly.

This was the day the African-American Jew-by-choice had planned to make aliyah. But he put those plans on hold indefinitely to accept a plum position as special assistant to Gov. Pete Wilson in his Irvine office of community relations. He started the job last month.

"This Aug. 6 was very strange," admits the former Bay Area resident. "I was wondering whether I made the right decision. I think I did."

Hardie, who recently turned 26, graduated in May from San Francisco's Hastings College of the Law and took the bar exam just weeks ago. And while he still plans to forge a legal career one day, the lifelong Republican has always had a hankering for politics as well.

"Even when I was planning to make aliyah, I was planning to go into Israeli politics," he says.

Working for the governor, Hardie spends much time going into California's inner cities to talk to the disenfranchised about their lives and Wilson's policies. Now Orthodox, he does his work wearing a kippah and tzitzit.

"When I wake up in the morning, I'm Jewish. When I come to work I'm Jewish. When I go home I'm Jewish. That's who I am, 100 percent."

While stressing he is not the governor's adviser on Jewish affairs, Hardie does see significant educational possibilities in being an African-American Jew working in largely black communities. "People are naturally curious, but they're all very positive," he says. "It gives me the opportunity to explain to them some of the Jewish traditions."

Hardie, who grew up in Southern California, first told his life story to the Bulletin in November of last year. He spoke of his pull toward Judaism as "intuitive, natural," adding that "I've been a Jew since Sinai."

He officially converted in December 1995 through San Francisco's Congregation Beth Israel-Judea and still maintains ties with the city's Orthodox Congregation Magain David Sephardim and with the Consulate General of Israel here, where he worked as an intern.

These days, Hardie lives in Los Angeles' largely Jewish Pico-Robertson District, where friends, neighbors and fellow members of his Orthodox synagogue know Hardie as "Moshe," Hebrew for Moses.

The name Moshe "really ties me into the African-American community because Moshe was viewed as someone who led his people to freedom," he says. "I want to help African-Americans become empowered, especially economically."

Hardie learned about the job by chance when a friend who worked in the governor's office in San Francisco mentioned an opening in the community relations office. Several lengthy interviews followed, along with an introduction to Wilson.

The governor's new exployee "is very articulate," says his supervisor, Suzanna Tashiro. "He's a real people person. That's how he came to our attention."

In his new position, Hardie will meet with the governor at least once a week, in small meetings as well as larger gatherings.

The job "was just beshert [meant to be]," says Hardie, who frequently peppers his speech with Hebrew and Yiddish expressions. "I didn't plan it at all."

While some would argue that the governor has espoused measures that work against many African-Americans, particularly those who are low-income, Hardie says he has no difficulty representing his boss to blacks.

"The first thing I have going for me is I love the entire African-American community," he says.

"Whether [someone is] a young African-American who is at Stanford or who is incarcerated, I can look them in the eyes and tell them I love them, I care about them and I want them to do better."

He also cares deeply about Israel, though future aliyah plans remain unclear. "I'm just going to leave it in the hands of HaShem," he says.

For now, Hardie calls Pico-Robertson his Israel, taking full advantage of its multiple falafel and shwarma stands, kosher markets and melange of Jewish cultural backgrounds and experience.

He also hopes living in the densely Jewish populated area will help him achieve an imminent goal — "marrying a nice Jewish girl."

"I loved San Francisco," he says. "I loved it. But as a person who had newly become Jewish, I needed a Jewish community. I needed to walk down the street and see people wearing kippot. All of my neighbors are Jewish. I can feel very secure."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.