Fifty-five years after being kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and made to raise her captor’s children, Hannah Menashe will be reunited with her family in Israel:
Fifty-five years after she was abducted from her family’s home in Baghdad by her Muslim neighbor and forced to renounce her Judaism, Hannah Menashe managed to flee Iraq and find her way to one of Israel’s European embassies. Her long, exhausting journey is finally coming to an end these days, as she will soon be reunited with he family in Israel, who thought her murdered all these years.
Hannah’s fascinating story begins in the 1950s, when her Baghdad-native family – parents and seven siblings – decided to immigrate to Israel. Hannah, already married to a Jewish Iraqi, was also planning to make aliyah, when fate struck: A Muslim neighbor, who was aware of the family’s plans to immigrate, kidnapped the striking Hannah to keep her by his side. Her siblings only have a vague recollection of that horrible day. They went looking for Hannah, they say, but the earth had swallowed her.
Decades passed, the siblings made aliyah and the family expanded, all the while keeping their bitter secret to themselves. Shortly after arriving in Israel, Hannah’s mother died at 37, her heart broken by losing her child.
Six months ago, out of the blue, the family received a surprising phone call. The woman on the other side of the line was Ravit Topol from the Ministry of Interior, with an extraordinary story she was looking to verify.
It turns out Hannah had been forced to become a Muslim and had raised her neighbor’s children for 50 years. No one in the Baghdad neighborhood knew about her secret or her Jewish roots, and she was afraid her husband would kill her if she tried to contact her siblings.
When her husband died a year ago, the now 76-year-old Hannah escaped Baghdad under the guise of being a war refugee. She was able to reach Europe through an Arab country and decided to locate an Israeli embassy.
“I am Jewish, I want to go to Israel,” she said in fluent Arabic and with great excitement.
Read the whole thing: it’s truly moving. Fortunately, one of her brothers still lives, and so Hannah will have the chance to be reunited with someone who remembers. One can only guess at the conversations they’ll have and the questions that will be asked. And I also wonder what her adjustment to freedom will be like after living most of her life as a slave.
As for her "husband," well, I hope he found himself in a very warm place.
Welcome home, Hannah.
(hat tip: Contentions)