Muslim woman in burqa (illustration)
Muslim woman in burqa (illustration) Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90

She was a Holocaust survivor. Raised in an Orthodox home in Germany, she fled the Nazis to Uzbekistan where she met and married Ismail and raised her 7 children as Moslems, never sharing the secret of her Jewish identity. 70 years later, the lives of her granddaughter and great-grandchildren are saved in a daring rescue operation by Yad L’Achim, and they finally return to their people.

Following 50 breathtaking events in the USA, Israel and Paris in the last year alone, Achmed ben Sara, the celebrated speaking tour, is coming to New York. For the first time ever, Tamar will speak live before thousands, sharing her story and showcasing the hair-raising stories of Jewish women and children trapped in Arab villages along with the heroic feats of Yad L’Achim which rescues them from their fate. Hers is a story of courage, strength and inspiration, a tale of one Jewish woman’s triumph over darkness and evil.

“I was an adolescent by the time I discovered my true identity. My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in Germany…” Tamar begins her spine-tingling tale, which unfortunately, is not as uncommon as many would like to believe. Three generations ago, her grandmother Fraida fled Nazi Germany all the way to Uzbekistan, where she met and wed Ismail, a dashing young Moslem, and raised her 7 children. Throughout the years, she never breathed a word of her Jewish identity, careful to spare them the persecution and brutalities that she and her family had suffered at the hands of their tormentors, frightened that if they or others learned the truth, her offspring would forever be hunted.

A generation later, one of Fraida—renamed Fatima’s—married daughters immigrated along with her Moslem husband and children to Israel due to financial difficulties. At the time, their daughter Maftuna was 10 years old. As they settled into their new home and lives, Maftuna’s father, who wished to uphold his family’s traditions, insisted that his children attend a separate school that preached modesty as a value. Thus, in an odd twist of fate, Maftuna was enrolled in a Jewish religious girls’ institution where she began learning Jewish values and customs.

In her new school, Maftuna, who now went by the name Tamar, immediately felt a bond to Judaism, “as if my soul was yearning for something greater. When I learned the story of how G-d appeared to Abraham, I felt that He had appeared to me too and told me that this was my home and my people… Once in Israel, I also began getting vibes that my mother was ‘half-Jewish,’ but I didn’t really know what it meant. I learned a lot about Judaism, but I was terribly confused because in school I learned that Judaism passes through the mother, whereas at home my father professed that Islam follows the father.

“When I was 12, I pleaded with a faculty member to help me discover who I was. She took me to a rabbi who sat me down, showed me my family tree, and proclaimed—‘You are a full-fledged Jewess!’”

Tamar’s parents were enraged as they observed her growing fealty to Judaism, and they determined to return at once to their native Uzbekistan. While her school principal attempted to intercede and even contacted Yad L’Achim, an organization dedicated to Jewish continuity, it was already too late.

Back in Uzbekistan, Tamar—once again Maftuna, not yet 16, was introduced to Muhamad, 25, and they were soon married. When she was 8 months pregnant, the couple returned to Israel. Within short time, her dream of a fairy tale home in Israel disintegrated into a nightmare. She suffered severe abuse, threats and violence, was forbidden to leave her house, and the smallest misstep could cause her husband to erupt in fury. Her husband beat her sadistically, warning her that “a woman cannot divorce her husband. The day you leave me is the day you die.”

In the meantime, she gave birth to two children who bore witness to her tribulations and were soon victimized as well. It was then that Tamar determined that she would stop at nothing to escape her hell. “It wasn’t just my life now, but also the lives of my children, at stake.”

One day, when her husband was out, Tamar picked up the phone and called Yad L’Achim. Following a shocking series of events including the kidnapping of her two children and their return to Uzbekistan, Yad L’Achim formulated an intricate escape plan and guided Tamar and her children through a death-defying escape out of two countries. Safe back in Israel, the organization’s team supported her through divorce, therapy, and positive reintegration into Israeli society. The children adapted quickly, yet there is still a lingering fear of a violent, abusive father who will demand their return home and take revenge on their mother.

Tamar shares that, unfortunately, the authorities are not taking sufficient action against her ex-husband or other abusers, and she reveals the shocking statistic that there are not hundreds, but actually thousands, of Jewish women trapped in Arab villages across Israel who are desperate to escape and reintegrate into Israeli society.

Young Jewish girls, many from troubled backgrounds, are groomed by Arab men who, some posing as Jews, offer them gifts and attention to gain their trust. Once they follow their new sweetheart into Arab territory, the initial exhilaration often deteriorates into terror. Like Tamar, many of these women are subjected routinely to depraved violence and abuse at the hands of the men they believed would be their Prince Charmings. Their children are raised as Arab Muslims and taught to hate Jews.

“One woman did not have access to a phone for 32 years and had no way to call for help,” says Nesanel Gantz, Director of Yad L’Achim in America. Founded in the 1950s with the mission statement of “We don’t give up on any Jew!” Yad L’Achim is a multi-branched organization dedicated to Jewish continuity. Their Special Operations branch saves Jews in situations of distress, and one of their flagship projects is rescuing Jewish women and their children held against their will in Arab villages. In many cases, rescue operations are conducted in top secrecy with the knowledge that the lives of the women, their children, and the operatives are at stake. Since its inception, Yad L’Achim has rescued thousands of Jewish women and children from life-threatening situations of abuse.

“People aren't aware how many hundreds of girls are drawn into these nightmares every year,” says Yossi Eliav, Director of Yad L’Achim’s Special Projects and organizer of the acclaimed speaking tour. “It's almost impossible for a Westerner to imagine how totally trapped a Jewish woman is in an Arab village. Some live truly like prisoners, without access to a phone or even the freedom to step outside.”

Once free, Yad L'Achim provides safe shelter for these women and their children and supports their reintegration into Israeli society. “Our mission,” continues Eliav, “is to show their plight to the world and save as many lives as we can.” Achmed ben Sara is “an extraordinary opportunity to witness firsthand how Yad L’Achim helps rescue women such as Tamar and bring them to safety.”