Sixty-eight years after she last saw her
family, an 85-year-old, silver-haired, Jewish great-grandmother returned
home to Haifa in northern Israel this week — having spent her entire
adult life living as an Arab woman in
Syria. Moving report in the Times of Israel:
Rachel Elkayam, seated centre, is reunited at Ben Gurion airport with her long-lost Jewish family
Elkayam, the third of 10 children, was a 16-year-old girl living in the
mixed Jewish-Arab city of Haifa in 1947 when her parents moved the
family to Tel Aviv. Conflict between pre-state Israel and the Arab world
was escalating, ahead of the following year’s declaration of Israeli
independence and the full-scale war that then erupted, and the Elkayams
believed they would be safer in the center of Israel than the north. But
Rachel, a rebellious child, had fallen in love with one of her Arab
neighbors, Fuad, and was pregnant with his child. “I loved him, and he
loved me,” Rachel Elkayam told Israel’s Channel 2 news in a report on
her remarkable life story, broadcast on Friday night.
Fuad’s family came to Tel Aviv to find her,
and she went back to Haifa with them, and married her young love in a
ceremony that she kept secret from her parents. In fact, from the day
she disappeared in Tel Aviv, the family never knew what had befallen
her, and always presumed that she was dead.
What actually happened was complicated,
heart-wrenching, and almost defies belief. Not long after their secret
marriage, Fuad was shot in the streets of Haifa by a sniper — “I never
saw him again,” said Rachel — and he died in a local hospital. Her
parents-in-law decided to flee Israel, for Syria, and insisted that she
come with them; she was, after all, carrying their grandson in her womb.
“I didn’t want to go,” Elkayam recalled tearfully, in the mixture of
Arabic and halting Hebrew with which she spoke throughout the report.