A third-generation hidden Jew left her life in Libya behind to return to Judaism.
Sabrin, a 30-year-old third-generation “hidden Jew,” was born and raised in Libya as a Muslim, but embarked on a remarkable journey to discover her roots.
The young mother was born in Benghazi, Libya to a Jewish family forced to hide its religious identity because Jews were officially purged from the country over four decades ago, when the ruthless dictator Muammar Gaddafi came to power. Nevertheless, a few isolated Jews remained, including Sabrin’s grandparents and their three children.
Each of those children married other hidden Jews, continuing the chain of Judaism according to ritual Jewish law.
“We lived like Marranos,” said Sabrin, using the word for Jews who converted to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition, but kept traditions in hiding]
Sabrin explained, “When my grandmother was alive, every Shabbos we would travel to her isolated estate and celebrate the holy day there, without anyone in the area knowing about it. We feared for our lives.”
At the tender age of 17, Sabrin left her family’s traditions and married a local man, as did her sisters.
When civil war broke out in Libya in 2014, she decided to study medicine in Eastern Europe, taking her husband and children along.
While at a local laundromat, she spotted a Jewish star with Hebrew writing on a sticker. It was the first time in her life she had the opportunity to connect with Jews openly practicing their religion. She discovered that the city where she was living had no less than 30,000 Jews and she reached out to the thriving community.
Due to her Muslim background, the community first viewed her with suspicion. However, less than six months later, she came across a film calling on lost Jews from Arab countries to contact Yad L’Achim, an Israeli organization that specializes in counter-missionary work and aiding Jews in Arab countries and villages.
Reaching out to the organization, Sabrin explained her plight and sent documentation proving she was born to a Jewish family and wanted to return to a full Jewish life.
The organization contacted the local rabbi, who agreed to help Sabrin. Arabic-speaking Yad L’Achim officials then flew to meet with Sabrin, her husband and the rabbi. They explained that they were there to help this lost Jew return to her roots. Though shocked at the turn of events, her Muslim husband agreed to abide by Sabrin’s decision and separated from her.
Today, she is living with her children as an active member of the Jewish community, with her children attending Jewish school.
Sabrin’s sisters are following a similar path and are receiving assistance from the organization to reconnect to Judaism and begin new lives
“Time will tell,” said one official, “but we’re convinced that, with God’s help, by the end of this year, the rescue of the sisters and their Jewish children will be behind us.”