AN ISRAELI Jewish mother of three, the daughter of a Hamas official, who escaped the Arab family where she was raised, has told her harrowing story in a Zoom event co-hosted by Chabad’s DaMinyan Shule in Melbourne and Chabad North Shore in Sydney.
Introduced by Chabad Youth director Rabbi Moshe Kahn, as “Maya” (her real name is suppressed), she works for Yad l’Achim, an Israeli organisation locating young Jewish women in Arab families in Jerusalem’s suburbs and offering them help to secretly leave. Last year the outfit intervened for some 550 women.
Maya explained that her Jewish mother as a teen had begun a relationship with an Arab man, moving to his village and bearing him a son. She later ran away to Jerusalem, but her family rejected her.
Her mother lived on the streets and became addicted to drugs, and Maya’s brother was removed by social workers. Then she met another Arab man, a high-ranking sheikh with Hamas, who would become Maya’s father.
When Maya was born, her father turned her mother away, and aged three, Maya was placed with a Jewish foster family where she was treated coldly.
With her mother gone, Maya returned to her father’s village where she was raised as a Muslim. At 15 she entered an arranged marriage but it quickly soured and she was regularly beaten.
When her husband had not returned one night, she visited her grandparents to phone him. “I knew it wasn’t allowed for a woman to go alone outside, especially when it’s dark.”
Arriving home, he condemned her for inquiring after his whereabouts and leaving the house without permission. He assaulted her savagely, causing her to lose her unborn baby. He refused to take her to a hospital until morning, warning her not to reveal what happened or he would kill her.
A compassionate uncle took her to Jerusalem and averted his gaze to let her bolt from the bus. From then on, she slept rough, stealing food and clothing. She located her mother but was spurned by her.
At 18, a social worker placed her in a shelter where a Jewish co-resident inspired her to lead a Charedi lifestyle, leading to her association with Yad l’Achim.
At his urging, she visited the Kotel, sitting for hours gazing at the Al-Aqsa mosque she used to visit, and the Kotel below, and pondering the religious and cultural gulf between them. “I asked myself, how can it be that those two are so close to each other, only a five-minute walk apart?”