After a 17-year captivity to an abusive Muslim husband, a Jewish mother and her eight children were rescued Sunday from the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. Yad L'Achim, an organization dedicated to solving problems of this type, freed Naama [not her real name] from imprisonment in her own home and almost two decades of fear, shame and violence. Seizing a window of opportunity – her husband was in prison and his brother under house arrest – her liberators wove through the narrow alleyways of the Muslim Quarter to deliver her to safety.
When her rescuers arrived, Naama was living as a Muslim wife in every way, and her Arabic-speaking children had no Jewish identity. All that was set to change as she stepped out this week into a new life among her people.
Naama, now around 40, grew up in a Torah-observant home in the Golan Heights. At 20, she rebelled against Judaism. Constant fighting with her parents and her decision to stop observing Shabbat culminated in a falling-out with her family, and Naama left her home to seek a different life. Vulnerable, with her life in a volatile state, Naama met an Arab man, who married her and brought her to the Muslim Quarter, promising her a warm, stable home where she would be loved and feel happy. Naama's life as a Muslim began.
In time, she gave birth to eight children, who were raised as Muslims. Meanwhile her husband's abusive nature began to reveal itself. By Naama's account, her children endured a life of violence from their father, and she herself ended up living in a state of fear, threats and constant abuse from the Arab man.
The increasingly lawless nature of Naama's Arab husband led to his arrest by Israeli police and his incarceration in an Israeli prison. With her husband temporarily out of Naama's life, his brother was placed under house arrest, leaving Naama with a window of opportunity to flee her life of Islamic servitude.
At this time, word of her predicament reached Yad L'Achim. The charitable group, whose mission it is to return Jews to their cultural and religious roots, contacted Naama and offered her a chance to return to Judaism. Several months ago, after learning of Naama's situation, the organization sent her a messenger.
"We put her in touch with a Jewish woman who had gone through the same exact experience, and who succeeded in rehabilitating herself," said a Yad L'Achim official. "That convinced her that she, too, could make it back to Judaism and a better life for herself and her children." Plans were drawn up for extricating Naama and her children from the Muslim Quarter.
Meanwhile, the charity contacted another brother of Naama's wayward husband and persuaded him to remain silent as the resue plans were finalized.
The rescue operation began this past Sunday at 3:30 p.m, as dozens of volunteers in Yad L'Achim's rescue unit met near Jaffa Gate to make final preparations. The volunteers braced themselves for the physical dangers of a difficult mission: to pluck her out of a tiny area crowded with hundreds of Arab families. Timing was of the essence, as a delay of just a few seconds could alert her many neighbors and bring swarms of angry Arabs pouring out into the narrow alleyways to fight the rescue.
As the rescuers went in, vans were dispatched to the area to provide cover for them and to snatch them, the mother and her eight children out of danger. With the rescuers snaking their way towards Naama's house, the vans' engines were kept running, as the drivers read Psalms for the safety of their friends and the success of their dangerous mission.
The rescue team reached the entrance to the house, where they found Naama waiting with one of her children. As soon as the captive wife saw them, she began to sob uncontrollably.
As the rescuers quickly packed Naama's few possessions into cartons they had brought along, social workers who were part of the rescue team observed the appalling conditions that Naama and her children had endured. They had been living as part of a hamula, or clan, one of many families inhabiting the single house in deplorable conditions.
Family members in Naama's hamula quickly learned of the rescue and tried, without success, to convince her not to leave.
Finally the rescue team, having gathered the mother, her children and their belongings, spirited them to the getaway vans. Just 15 minutes after entering the quarter, the team left, all participants safe inside vans that sped onto the next destination: a "safe house" that was to become the new home for Naama and her children. The rescue mission was crowned a success.
Naama's new refuge is a spacious and furnished apartment, whose location is closely guarded from the reach of her husband. "Here she will learn to be independent and take her first steps back to Judaism," said a Yad L'Achim official. "We have people who will be at her side, offering warmth and love. The children don't speak Hebrew and have not been circumcised. They have no remnant of Judaism, other than their souls."
Rabbi Shalom Dov Lifschitz, chairman of Yad L'Achim, congratulated the rescuers for their courageous action as his charity celebrated the success of another operation. However, Rabbi Lifschitz cautioned that there were many others, like Naama, in desperate need of rescue from such captive and devastating relationships.
"We must think of all those Jewish souls that are still imprisoned," said the rabbi. "We must make use of every legitimate means to bring them from darkness to light."