A Jew from Pakistan pleads: Let me make aliyah
The handful of Jews left in Pakistan hide their religion in fear for their lives, but their tradition passes on from one generation to the next. Zuriel Ben-Israel, one of the few Jews remaining in land of the Taliban, wants to make aliyah with his family, but faces great obstacles.
I’m used to scrolling through my Facebook timeline quickly, but one of my friends’ posts caught my attention. It said “Shabbat Shalom from Pakistan.” Shabbat Shalom from the home of the Taliban, the nation at war. It was signed by Zuriel Ben-Israel. That is his Hebrew name – his Pakistani name is withheld to protect his personal safety.
There are almost no Jews left in Pakistan. In 2014, the media reported that there were seven Jews left in Pakistan, but they hide their identities for fear of their neighbors and the authorities. Ben-Israel, 57, married with six children, describes himself as an ardent Zionist, who maintains a full Jewish life thereby endangering his life and the lives of his family. His children serve in senior positions in the education system in the country, and all of them are college graduates.
Over the years, many Jews kept their religion in Pakistan a secret, fearing for their lives, however, the knowledge of their Jewish identity has been passed down from generation to generation.
“I know that we are descendants of the Jewish people, but I have no official documents that could prove my family’s history,” he says.
But paradoxically, in order to make aliyah to Israel, he is required to prove that he is Jewish. “I started thinking what I had to do to convert, but all of my friends are Muslims. Pakistan has no rabbi, a Jewish community, or a synagogue – and therefore I can’t perform the official steps required for conversion.”
One of the conditions for the conventional conversion process, or alternatively, to be recognized under the Jewish Law of Return – is belonging to a Jewish community. Over the past five years, Ben-Israel has been studying Hebrew, the Bible, kashrut laws and whatever else is required, and says he is ready to convert even though his Judaism has been passed down to him throughout the generations.
“I’m living a Jewish lifestyle, and I make it a point to celebrate the holidays with my family,” he says, “but every day that passes I am aware that this is not
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