Sajid and Farah Samuel are Pakistani refugees who, some three years ago, were forced to flee Karachi with their three children, facing more and more threats because of their Jewish religion, which they had to practice in secret.
“In Pakistan," they say, "we lived in fear.”
They stayed in Dubai for a few months, but since April last year have been living in Alon Shvut, an Israeli settlement in the southern West Bank, between Jerusalem and Hebron.
To them, it feels like home. For the first time in their lives, they point out, they have freedom of worship. “I can wear my yarmulke, I can wear white on Saturday and I can say to people ‘Shabbat shalom," says Sajid.
It may feel like home, but it may not be home for much longer: Sajid, Farah and their children are not considered Jewish according to the state and according to halakha, (Jewish religious law). They face deportation after immigration authorities refused their request to convert.
“This Pakistani family arrived in Israel in March 2022 to convert and live their Judaism to the fullest. They had to flee Pakistan which is a Muslim country,” says Tomer Warsha, the family’s attorney. “They have Jewish roots, and in fact, they are practicing. They are very attached to their Judaism. Their children were raised according to Jewish tradition. They were victims of antisemitism there.”
The family had obtained permission to come to Israel after contacting the various Israeli intermediaries. Once they arrived, they turned to the country’s Exceptions Committee, for conversions to Judaism, to obtain the right to convert and to have the opportunity to fully become part of the Jewish people
The request was rejected by the authorities. They were unconvinced the family was sincere. Consequently, the tourist visa on which the Samuels entered Israel was not renewed.
“The first thing we did was to appeal the decision of the Exceptions Committee, alleging an error on their part,” says Warsha. “We are talking about a family that lives in Alon Shvut. The children study in religious schools. Can anyone imagine that this is a family that wants to convert fictitiously? For the moment, their case is being processed, but this has not prevented the Ministry of the Interior from demanding their departure.”
Sajid, born into a Christian family, has always been attracted to Judaism. It was a spiritual quest that led him as an adult to meet one of the last Jews in Pakistan. The father of the woman who would eventually become his wife finally agreed to introduce him to the religion of Moses. Which included making an appointment with a doctor.
“I asked him why and he told me that I had to be circumcised first,” Sajid explains. “I was 21 or 22 years old. The next day I went to the hospital to be circumcised. Two weeks later, after recovering, I went back to Farah's father to tell him it was done. He said ‘OK, great! Now you are ready to learn the Torah.”
After one and a half years, Sjaid was invited to spend Shabbat with his teacher’s family. That’s where he met Farah. She had been raised in the Jewish religion. Her father had learned Torah from his grandparents, and passed it on to her. In 2014 she first approached the organization "Jews for Judaism, and its director, Rabbi Michael Skobac, who told her that her family was probably descended form one of the lost Biblical 10 tribes of Israel.
The family is now taking online Torah classes, to fill in some of the gaps in their knowledge, and to best prepare for an Orthodox conversion. Everything, they say, is in the hands of God.
“We had many options where we could go to achieve our conversion process but a miracle made us arrive in Israel. It was not our plan to end up here but it was God's plan. We can't go back to Pakistan, we might get killed, we don't want to take any risk."
According to the family’s lawyer, who specializes in immigration and in obtaining Israeli nationality, the case of the Samuel family is not an exception. Israeli authorities yearly refuse hundreds of conversion requests.
Reprinted with permission from i24NEWS.