The father of one of the American hikers freed from Iran is Jewish and once lived in Israel, where the hiker also visited. The facts were kept secret for his safety.
The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent said it knew of the Jewish identity of Josh Fattal's father Jacob but did not publish the facts in order to safeguard his life. Under Jewish law, a child is Jewish only if his mother also is Jewish.
It is assumed that Iranian authorities also knew of his Jewish background. The Islamic Republic frequently arrests and sometimes executes people for allegedly spying for Israel.
Josh Fattal was imprisoned with Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd after they crossed the Iraqi-Iranian border while hiking, either inadvertently or after having been coaxed by Iranian guards.
Shourd was released on $500,000 bail after becoming ill, but Fattal and Bauer shared a tiny prison cell for two years. They were convicted of spying and were sentenced to eight years in prison before being released last week on $1 million bail.
The Exponent reported that Jacob Fattal was born in Iraq and moved to Israel before leaving for the United States. Although not Jewish by Jewish law, his son Josh celebrated a Bar Mitzvah ceremony and traveled to Israel several times.
During the 26-month ordeal of the hikers’ imprisonment in a notoriously harsh Tehran jail, the Fattal family turned down offers from Jewish organizations to intervene because government agencies were working on their release, but many Jews made personal efforts to help.
"When your kid is in that kind of situation, you don't want to do anything to endanger him," Bernard Dishler, a family dentist and Jewish communal activist, told the Exponent.
During a Jewish Federation trip to Israel earlier this year, Dishler met with the parents of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
The rabbi of a local synagogue also recited a prayer for Fattal's release every Friday night, the beginning of the Sabbath.
"We have been reciting their names in our weekly Erev Shabbat and Shabbat MiSheberach prayers [for captives] in the hope that our thoughts and prayers on their behalf would carry to their domain, and in the fervent hope that they would soon be reunited with their families and friends at home in America," said the Rabbi, Eliot Holin.
Josh Fattal was conscious of his partly Jewish identity, but, according to family friend Joe Boxman quoted by the Exponent, “thinks of himself as a citizen of the world.”
"There is a culture of fear out there about the Middle East and this, unfortunately, perpetuates that," said Boxman.