How a family was saved thanks to the Abraham Accords - opinion

The Samuel family was in danger of being deported from Dubai to Pakistan where they would be persecuted for their Judaism.

 FALAK, SAJID, Farah, Parker and Charrish (left to right) pose in this photo in front of the Western Wall.  (photo credit: DON SHRENSKY)
FALAK, SAJID, Farah, Parker and Charrish (left to right) pose in this photo in front of the Western Wall.
(photo credit: DON SHRENSKY)

There is a tradition in Judaism that Tuesday is a lucky day. In Genesis, God blesses each day. He saw that what He had created was good. But on the third day, he blessed the day twice. Hence, Don’s parents always moved homes on a Tuesday and we continued the tradition in our family. 

On Tuesday, 29 March, FlyDubai Flight 1627 arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport at 11:23 p.m. with the Samuel family – mother, Farah; father, Sajid; 17-year-old Falak; 15-year-old Charrish; and 13-year-old Parker. This was their lucky day.

In our Op-Ed of 6 March, “Save a practicing Jewish family from being deported to Pakistan,” we reported that this family was stranded in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, without any hope of getting to Israel. Six months earlier, they had fled Pakistan, where they were being persecuted for practicing Judaism. 

This is a Purim story for our time. The Megillah (Book of Esther) relies on precipitating events (e.g. Vashti must be eliminated and replaced as Queen) and a palace insider (Esther). Our story has a similar plot.

The precipitating event in our story is the Abraham Accords. Without them, there would not have been an Israeli Consulate in Dubai to issue Israel tourist visas to the Family. Our palace insider is Moshe Feiglin, who read our Jerusalem Post op-ed article and was moved to do something about it. He managed to convince the powers that be to arrange for the tourist visas to be issued, which they were on Thursday, 24 March. That day we received WhatsApp messages from the children declaring that they were coming home.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is seen inaugurating the Israeli Consulate in Dubai, on June 30, 2021. (credit: Lahav Harkov)Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is seen inaugurating the Israeli Consulate in Dubai, on June 30, 2021. (credit: Lahav Harkov)

Once Moshe Feiglin indicated to us that it was a strong possibility that the visas would be issued, we contacted Mark Feldman of Diesenhaus Tour Company. He worked with us and the family for a week. Due to the unusual circumstances, it was a rollercoaster week. For example, the tickets were booked and canceled twice.

Under current travel restrictions, the family had to get PCR tests within 72 hours of their flight. The visas were issued Thursday, but due to a holiday in the UAE, testing facilities were officially closed that Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The family arranged with a doctor to get the tests at 6 p.m. on Sunday. Mark would not book the flight until we knew the results were negative. The results came in Monday morning. Fortunately, all five of the family were negative.

In addition, the family had to fill out an Israel entry form with a health declaration and submit it within 48 hours of their flight. This form is done online. However, the family was experiencing Internet problems that Monday. They finally managed to complete the form but on Tuesday they could not get the completed form to appear on anyone’s cellphone. The form had to be presented at the Dubai airport before boarding the plane. They called the Israel Consulate in Dubai, but in spite of them trying, they could not restore the link to the completed form. Eventually, an aide to Moshe Feiglin had to complete the form online from the beginning, while on the telephone with Farah.

The family is staying with us for a week. Afterward, a wonderful woman in the Gush has graciously agreed to have the family stay with her until Shavuot. Of course, the family would like to eventually have an apartment of their own.

THIS IS an amazing family. During the six days (as we write this) that they have so far stayed in our apartment, we have not heard one word of discontent. The three children play and talk among themselves without any fighting. Also, the interaction between all members of the family, parents and children is something to behold and learn.

All members of the family desperately want to be Jewish. As we reported in our March 6 op-ed article, they are not halachically Jewish. Farah traces her Judaism through her father, who traces his Judaism through his maternal grandmother. He was locally known in Karachi, Pakistan as The Jew.

He has a PhD in metallurgy and was vocal in his belief in Judaism. It was not unusual for him to confront a Catholic priest and challenge his belief that his religion is the true religion. The family had to restrain him from such confrontations.

Farah grew up following her father’s Judaism, while her sister followed their mother’s Catholicism. Her father believed without a doubt that one day Farah and her family would get to Israel.

Since 2013, the family has been learning about Judaism online, with an eye toward an Orthodox conversion, with Chabad rabbis and an Israeli conversion teacher. At the same time, Farah and Sajid organized other like-minded people into the local B’nai Noah Community, eventually growing to over 300 adults and children, celebrating Shabbat and Jewish holidays together.

We were shown notebooks, written by Farah, with various brachot for each occasion and step-by-step procedures for such occasions as Shabbat Kiddush (Friday night and Saturday morning) and Havdalah. We observed them saying the “Shema” (albeit a shortened version) each morning and evening. They also say the morning brachot for when arising in the morning, washing the hands, after going to the toilet and so on.

Because they are so eager to learn, on Shabbat I showed both Sajid and Farrah how to daven the “Shemoneh Esrei” prayers in English. They both stood on our patio reading the prayers intently. What really got me was observing Sajid shuckel back and forth. I asked him if he was aware of doing it and, if so, where he learned to do it. He said he learned it from his father-in-law.

We took the family to the Western Wall. It was the first place they wanted to go. Don took the males to one side while Joan took the females to the other side. They stood with heads leaning on the wall for over 10 minutes. When they finished and turned away, all eyes were wet.

We got the family to Israel on tourist visas, but we will be working to keep them here. They want to complete the conversion process, get the children back in school and start working (they have not worked for the past three to four years due to persecution in Pakistan).

The family needs help with many things, including housing after Shavuot, medical insurance, transportation, conversion courses and private Ulpan. As tourists they are not entitled to government assistance.

Don is a retired US/Israel CPA and Joan is founder and former director of Mercaz Harmony.