Efrat could cope with the violence and abuse of her Arab husband, Salim. What she couldn’t handle was the mounting concern that he was turning her daughters away from her, her family and her people.
At the very beginning, the picture was rosy. “I’m a woman of the world,” she would say. “It doesn’t matter to me whether my husband is Jewish or Arab or African or Czech or German. I don’t believe in stigmas, in preconceived notions.”
But the reality of marriage to Salim turned out to be more complicated. Six years ago, after the birth of their second daughter, he insisted that they remarry in the Sharia court. “It is a mystical process that will influence us and the girls to be better,” he told Efrat, using terminology she could relate to.
That ceremony, in theory just a formality, became the first step on Salim’s path toward dangerous extremism. Stirred up by the victories of Islamic State, he approached the local sheikh and asked to be appointed the muezzin – the servant – in the new mosque being built in the village so that he could spread Islam. The sheikh agreed on condition that he change his way of life and become a devout Muslim.
Salim, who was leaning in that direction in any event, immediately agreed to the condition.
Efrat tried at first to ignore her husband’s growing extremism, but it soon became impossible to ignore the elephant in the room. When he began ranting about those “heretic Jews” she finally understood that there had been something to those “preconceived notions” about Jews marrying outside of their religion. She understood that they were meant to protect her, and that now her future and the future of her daughters was in danger.
When Salim demanded that she quit her job at a prestigious legal office in Beersheva, she understood that he was looking to lock her off from society and decided to run away.
Salim, for a change, didn’t threaten her or try to harm her. Instead he sought to deny her that which was most precious to her – her daughters. She left the village with them, but the saga didn’t end.
Letters from his attorneys began piling up on her desk demanding his parental rights, and she didn’t know where to turn for help. Relatives referred her to Yad L’Achim which fights cases like these all the time, and the rescue organization placed at her disposal top members of its legal team.
Despite a valiant effort, the court ruled that it was in the best interest of the young daughters to meet their Arab father once a month in a joint custody arrangement.
With the passage of years, Efrat became more connected to Judaism and enrolled her daughters in religious schools. Despite this, they had to go periodically to Salim’s village, in keeping with the court ruling, where they heard vile attacks directed against their mother and were subjected to attempts to foist Muslim teachings on them.
Efrat was terribly worried about these visit, but this week she learned that she had nothing to be concerned about.
“Don’t worry, mom,” her eight-year-old daughter said, as she was being dropped off at the Arab village. “When I’m in the village I’m am strict to keep the mitzvos, without Abba noticing. I do netillas yadayim in the morning with a coffee mug, I daven under the blanket and, at meal-time, I make brachos when he turns his head away. I don’t pay attention to him, I only want to be a Jew.”
Yad L’Achim is continuing to pursue legal steps that will allow the girls to return fully to their nation.