From Aleppo To Israel: The Struggle To Save A Jewish Family
It was a secret rescue operation in Aleppo, Syria — a mission to save a family who, to protect their identity, are being called the Halabis.
They were reportedly the last Jews living in Syria's largest city. Miriam Halabi's son, in Brooklyn, asked a businessman to help get them out.
So the Halabis — 88-year-old Miriam, two daughters, a son-in-law and three children — embarked on a dangerous journey.
They hoped to find refuge in Israel, and Miriam Halabi and her daughter Sara were able to get visas.
But Miriam's other daughter, Gilda, cannot: she converted to Islam to marry her husband Khaled, who has three children from a previous marriage, and the Jewish Agency says she, along with her family, does not qualify for immediate entry.
Israeli-American businessman Moti Kahana is the man behind the secret rescue mission that took the Halabis out of Assad's Syria. He tells NPR's Scott Simon that the rescue project wasn't easy.
And that as long as Gilda's family is still in limbo, it's not over.
On what's involved in sneaking a family — including an 88-year-old woman and three children — out of Syria
It was not an easy journey. We had to start with the passport — passports [were] not easy things to get, this country is in a war. And, talk to the family inside, we told them in the next few days we're going to get you out. And we know ISIS is getting closer, the area became ... closer to the frontline every day.
And we contact our guys inside — it's not Moti Kahana went inside, put them on my back and carried them across the border. It's really the people of Syria — the moderate Muslims, the moderate Syrian opposition, they are the ones to help to save the Jews.
On the tense moment at the beginning of the trip, when the Halabis heard a knock on the door
They didn't actually come out ... They got scared for a minute. They didn't know who's coming in.
We got everybody in the car and start driving, and then we told them Eli — the brother in Brooklyn — Eli sent us to get you out.
Then they knew Eli was the code, pretty much. They knew the son is sending help to get the family out.
Now we had to cross, get out of the Assad regime area, and then cross to the opposition area. And when you cross that part, went to the opposition area, that was a little bit easier, because our guys already knew what to do at that point.
On why he coordinates rescue missions like this one
I love every second of this. I help, by the way, not only Jews — I did help a Muslim family, even Palestinian, from Yarmouk camp.
... Why? Because it's the right thing to do. All my life I was a businessman. About four, almost five years ago, I visited the Holocaust museum in Israel. That kind of started the whole thing. I really realized — when I looked at those picture on the wall, and the stories, I got very emotional.
You ask me why? Because we said, never again. That's why. And again, not only to Jews. To any other people as well.
On what might happen with the daughter we're calling Gilda, who the Jewish Agency says cannot take refuge in Israel because she converted to Islam
I will start first, when you are in Syria, as a Jew, and you marry a non-Jew, a Muslim guy, you have to sign a documentation to convert to Islam. She did not convert into Islam — she signed paperwork, because that's the law.
Yes, the Israelis could definitely use other means to get the family to Israel, including the Muslim husband and his three kids. Let's start with the tourist visa! ... Just a tourist visa, what's wrong with a tourist visa?
I'm still involved ... I don't quit. I get my mission done.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.