On Wednesday evening, December 11, a crowd of community women gathered at Khal Nachlas Yitzchok to show support for Yad L’Achim, a vital organization that is heroically saving Jewish lives.
Yad L’Achim is an organization that rescues Jewish women and children trapped in Arab villages. It also rescues people ensnared by missionaries and, as we learned last night, it does even more amazing lifesaving work.
Nesanel Gantz, Director of Yad L’Achim’s Brooklyn Office, welcomed everyone, and explained the chilling fact that young Arab men purposely hang around secular Israeli high schools or malls and target Jewish Israeli girls. The victims are usually girls from broken homes with low self-esteem who are often economically or emotionally deprived. The Arab men masquerade as Jews, and then they pretend to care about the Jewish girls and treat them nicely, until they convince them to marry. Once they marry, they are brought to the Arab village and abused and treated like slaves. They are cut off from their families and Judaism.
The audience first viewed a short video of the rescued children and mothers of Yad L’Achim. It showed the children creating Shabbos candlesticks for their mothers and learning about Judaism. It was heartening to see these Jewish women and children who were rescued and are now embracing Judaism. Nesanel Gantz noted that redeeming captives is the greatest mitzvah according to the Rambam. It is a priority in tz’dakah. According to a study by the Israeli government, there are 25,000 Jewish women trapped in Arab villages, which means there are 100,000 Jewish children trapped there. Yad L’Achim offers support for the women and children once they are rescued and brought back to Israel. There is a 24-hour hotline, social workers, Shabbatons and other inspiring educational programs about Judaism, and help with legal issues dealing with the Arab fathers, etc.
The guest speaker, Michal, who flew in from Israel, captivated the audience with her incredible story. The story is difficult for her to share, but she did so willingly to help support and to show gratitude to Yad L’Achim who literally saved her life physically and spiritually. She spoke in Hebrew and Mrs. Devora Kuperman translated.
Her story began with the Holocaust. Her grandmother fled the Nazis and reached Uzbekistan where, sadly, she met a Muslim man and married him. So, Michal’s mother was born in a Muslim home. Michal was born in Uzbekistan and raised Muslim. From age seven, she remembered she had many questions. When a family member died, she asked her father what happened to him after death and her father said nothing happened. She remembered wondering what is the point of life? How can it be just to live and then to die. She recalled looking at the sky and thinking that someone made me and there is some reason I am here. This thought comforted her.
When she was 11, the family had a financial crisis and they decided to move to Israel. When the Israeli government interviewed her family about where they wanted to send their children to school, her father said he wanted a place where they dressed modestly. The government then sent her to an Orthodox Jewish school in Bnei Brak.
She shared how it was confusing then because her father told her she was Muslim and the school told her she was Jewish since her mother was Jewish. At one point, a teacher told her to take a siddur and she said she couldn’t because a siddur is holy and she didn’t want to touch if she was Muslim. The teacher took her to a rabbi who showed her her family tree and proved to her that she was in fact Jewish. “I felt that Hashem guided me to this place and said you are Jewish. This is where you belong.”
Living at home then was extremely challenging, because when she tried to do anything Jewish her father would block her. She tried to kiss the mezuzah that was on their rented apartment door; her father threw it in the garbage. When she lit Shabbos candles, he extinguished them and made fun of her. He told her stories of how bad Jews were, but she knew he was wrong.
When she turned 15, her parents told her that they were sending her on a heritage trip to Uzbekistan. A teacher named Suri warned her: “Are you sure they aren’t sending you there to marry you off?” She offered to take Michal to Yad L’Achim. Michal went there to Yad L’Achim with her mother, and her mother promised they were not marrying her off.
She shared, “My parents told me to go, so I followed my parents’ order.” She described her ordeal in Uzbekistan. It began with meeting aunts and relatives who were patting her and giggling. Then her uncle drove her to a restaurant that had many rooms. He left her in a room where there was a young man. She recalled sitting and staring at a wall in that room and crying.
A week later, this same young man walked into her relative’s house and informed her that she was engaged to him. Her parents had arranged it.
She described a horrible time when her husband beat her. “My husband made sure I knew my place.” She became pregnant and had a baby girl. When the baby was three months old, she became pregnant again. One day she was resting and didn’t answer the door fast enough. He beat her for this, so much that it killed the baby. When she went to the hospital she didn’t tell them what happened because she feared losing her older child.
A year later, she gave birth to a baby boy. They had moved to Israel because her husband wanted Israeli citizenship, which would give him a lot of advantages. She told him that he had to give the baby a bris milah on the eighth day or the government would take away his citizenship. That is how she was able to give her baby a bris milah. She remembers how she screamed in her heart, “Hashem, my kids are Jewish. I don’t want to raise kids who are Muslim.” She shared how when she prayed like this, she felt strength come into her body. She told her husband that she wanted a divorce. He said Muslim women don’t divorce. He took a knife and started cutting her. He said, “The day you divorce me is the day you’re buried in a grave.”
She kept saying she wanted a divorce, so he packed the family up and they moved back to Uzbekistan. He locked her in a room for three days with no food, just beatings.
She shared how one day she tried to take her own life and her Muslim “mother-in-law” saw her lying on the carpet with her wrists bleeding and said you are dirtying my rug with your blood. “That woke me up,” she said. “I realized I had to live for my children. I knew I would get help from somewhere.”
A short while later, a letter arrived from the Israeli Consulate stating that, in order to keep his Israeli citizenship, my husband had to bring us back to Israel to prove we were married. They originally just had to go for one week. He forced her to leave the children with his mother in Uzbekistan. She realized she couldn’t accomplish her freedom and her children’s freedom in just one week. She had the advantage over her husband that she knew Hebrew. She took some of the documents at the consulate and hid them. The consulate official then told her husband that they had to stay in Israel for three months.
Michal shared that she confided to a friend from her old school what life was like for her. The friend advised her to go to Yad L’Achim for help. Michal was skeptical that they could help, since she was not trapped in an Arab village. She had no money for a bus or train so she decided to walk to the Yad L’Achim office from Tel Aviv to B’nei Brak. When she walked into the office, the first person she saw was Suri the teacher who knew her from her school days in Bnei Brak. Yad L’Achim kept her shielded in a safe place, but during that time her husband had called the police and told them she had stolen money and he opened a case against her.
The police were able to discern the truth, as they saw all the signs of abuse on her and they arrested him. She went to court to get her children back, but Israel said it would be a five-year process since the children were in another country.
After six months, she said that her mother came to her and asked her to drop the charges and have her husband released as he was threatening to burn down their home. “I told her, ‘Get me my kids.’”
She then shared the incredible story of how Yad L’Achim helped her to rescue her children. They put her in touch with a Chabad House in Tashkent. A man named Eli from the Chabad House met her at the airport. He set up an appointment and she was able to see her children. “I can’t describe the feeling of getting them back.” Her daughter flew into her arms but she had to introduce herself to her son as he was just a baby when she left. The problem now was that, without the father’s permission, she could not obtain passports for them.
Eli told her to try to leave with her Uzbekistan passport that had pictures of them on it. When they were in the airport, Hashem made a miracle, and when the passport person asked to see the children’s passports, her son let out this incredible scream so the man just stamped the passport and she went through. The next hurdle was in Israel, as she had no passports for the children. She described how Hashem helped her again and she was able to get through customs with them.
Once she was back in Israel with her children, she described how Yad L’Achim took care of her. They provided a home for her in K’far Tapuach where she met Leora and Moshe who really became family for her and her children. They gave them warmth and love that she had never had before. She said, “I found my place and my family.”
Later, she met the man whom she married, and they have a beautiful family together. She showed photos of their family, which include her two children from before. The audience was treated to a video of Michal’s chasunah, where Leora and Moshe walked her down the aisle. It was truly moving to see this joyous ending to such a harrowing story.
Michal imparted, “If Yad L’Achim was not here, I wouldn’t have this family. I’m the only one who went to my grandmother’s grave in a Muslim cemetery and said Sh’ma there.”
She continued, “Yad L’Achim saved one person – me. There will be, with Hashem’s help, generations coming from us. They gave me their hand and their heart, and for that reason I’m standing before you as a proud Jew.”
After this, the audience viewed a short video of Rebbetzin Kolodetsky, the daughter of Rav Chaim Kanievsky. She urged everyone to contribute to Yad L’Achim, an excellent tz’dakah. She spoke of the importance of accepting Shabbos ten minutes early, as this is a z’chus for success in all matters.
To donate or to contact Yad L’Achim, please visit Yadlachim.org or call Yossi at 646-860-9165.
By Susie Garber