The extraordinary story of Maya, the Jewish woman who was raised as the daughter of a Hamas sheikh, and other Jewish women who were rescued from Arab villages by Yad L’Achim, will be aired in Queens next week.
The video, including dramatic footage of Jewish women in Arab villages and during their harrowing rescues, will be aired in Forest Hills at the Queens Jewish Center on Sunday, June 23, and in Kew Garden Hills at Yeshivah Ohel Simcha on Monday, June 24. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. The program is for women and is restricted to older teens and adults, due to the subject matter.
Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser will give a talk on “Protecting Yourself and Your Children in Today’s World,” to be followed by a question-and-answer session.
Maya was born to a Moroccan mother who had run away from her dysfunctional home and lived on the streets before meeting and marrying an Arab who promised to treat her like a queen. But once she became his wife and agreed to move to his village, the promises were forgotten. After Maya’s birth, when the abuse became unbearable, her mother ran away from the village with her daughter and placed Maya, then 4, with a foster family.
“It was a secular Jewish family that hated Arabs,” Maya recalls. “I didn’t speak any Hebrew, only Arabic, and so they hated me. At school, every time I got into a fight, the kids would call me ‘Arab.’”
Not surprisingly, Maya felt more Arab than Jewish, and at 14 asked her social worker to arrange a meeting with her real parents. She learned that her mother, incredibly, had married another Arab and wasn’t interested in meeting her. But her father, a Hamas sheikh, wanted to reunite.
“That first meeting was so exciting,” she recalls. “My father brought along my uncles and grandparents and cousins, who were happy to see me. I thought, ‘Why should I stay with a foster family that doesn’t accept me when I have a loving family of my own?’”
Once she moved back to the village, she made a sincere effort to fit in as a practicing Arab, asking her father for a tutor to teach her the Koran. “Then I turned 15 and my father said I should marry a cousin, who was 22.”
Finally, Maya decided to make a break for it. With the help of a sympathetic uncle, she managed to escape to Jerusalem, where she contacted her mother—who wanted nothing to do with her. Having nowhere else to go, Maya lived in a cave in Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood. “I lived there for more than a year, stealing clothes off clotheslines and eating bread and milk that were delivered to neighborhood grocery stores at dawn.” She met a group of young “street people,” one of whom told a social worker about her. The social worker found Maya in the cave, and arranged for her to stay in a facility for homeless youths.
“It was erev Yom Kippur, and some boys in the next room were playing a tape of Rav Amnon Yitzchak [Israel’s leading outreach activist]. I banged on the wall and yelled at them to turn it down, as I wanted to sleep. They convinced me to come and listen, and Rav Amnon Yitzchak was speaking of the way Jewish husbands treat their wives. I was so moved, when I compared it to what I had been through; I wanted to learn more.
“The boy said I could come with him to Kol Nidrei, but I would need more-modest clothing. We went knocking on doors of religious homes, and he would ask the woman of the house if she had a spare blouse, skirt. This is how I got clothes for Yom Kippur.”
Once she was properly dressed, Maya went with her new friend to the Kotel to mark her first Yom Kippur. Looking from the top of the stairs that overlook the Kotel plaza, her breath was taken away. “I could see the mosque on Har Habayit, where I had come as an Arab, and below it the Kotel, where I wanted to be as a Jew.
“I was so overwhelmed with gratitude to Hakadosh Baruch Hu for giving me this chance. I thought, ‘If He could engineer my miraculous escape and make it possible for me to return to Judaism, then I wanted to do His will, and bring Him joy. I felt that I had been given my life as a gift and I was determined to do teshuvah even if it was difficult.”
Maya, who now has a beautiful family of her own—a husband who learns, and young children—is paying back her “debt” by working for Yad L’Achim, rescuing other girls in her situation and helping to rehabilitate them. She lectures at schools across Israel to alert girls to the dangers and prevent them from falling into the trap.
One letter, from the staff at students at Ulpanat “Reut,” reveals Maya’s impact on the students. “It’s difficult to describe the emotions we felt on hearing your moving story. Your heartfelt words penetrated our students’ hearts, and they now understand how important it is to take extreme care before entering into relationships with men. Hearing your story gave them an insight into the difficulties that arise in marriage between Jews and Arabs.”
Next week’s special presentations will give you a frightening glimpse into how far Jewish girls can fall, and inspire you to believe in the power of teshuvah and the ability of even the most broken Jewish women to rebuild their lives and reach lofty spiritual highs. v