Hundreds of Jews living in Arab countries, some in countries considered mortal enemies of Eretz Yisroel, will now be able to welcome Shabbos properly thanks to a special graphic published by Yad L’Achim for the first time. The Shabbos times are catered to Jews living in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, Jordan.
This story began three months ago when Imad (his name was changed for his personal safety), a young Jew living in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, first contacted Yad L’Achim’s “Roots Department”, which works to strengthen the Jewish roots of Jews living for whatever reason in Arab countries.
The young man discovered his Judaism, began to study Torah every evening with a chavrusa, an activist of the organization who speaks fluent Arabic, and began to take huge steps on his way to Yiddishkeit. One of the first mitzvos Imad began to take was the observance of Shabbos.
“About two weeks ago,” said Amir, a Roots Department activist, “Imad told us about his struggle to keep Shabbos. In a bold move, he tried to change his day off from work to Shabbos.”
“His employer reacted by informing him that if he would like to skip work on Saturdays, he no longer needs to return to work at all. This was their nice way of saying ‘you’re fired’.”
Imad left his job in search of new employment that would enable him to properly observe Shabbos.
“Imad’s dedication to Shabbos struck a chord among Yad L’Achim’s team,” said Amir. “When it became clear to us that the Shabbos times were not clear to him and his family and that they had to look for them every week anew, we decided to produce and ship Shabbos times around the Arab world.”
The team at Yad L’Achim has worked to produce an accessible graphic with pertinent Shabbos times, catered to a number of cities in Arab countries.
All of these cities have one thing in common: the Jews who live in them, each with his/her unique circumstances, maintain continuous contact with Yad L’Achim and regularly receive guidance and reinforcement of their Yiddishkeit.
The clear, ready-made graphic, is being printed and sent to cities all over the Arab world, both in friendly nations and nations considered very unfriendly. Many recipients of the Shabbos times have little, to no contact with other Jewish people.
The cities listed on the graphic are Tripoli, the war-torn capital of Libya, Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, Damascus, the capital of Syria, Baghdad and Irbil in Iraq, Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, Cairo, the capital of Egypt, Amman, the capital of Jordan and Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Yad L’Achim is currently preparing a more up-to-date version that will also include zmanim in cities within Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain, based on meticulous research.
According to the organization, they have made contact with several more Iraqi Jews, in addition to Imad, as well as Jews living in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Egypt and Jordan.
One might wonder how they got there…
Many of the individuals in contact with Yad L’Achim are sons of Jewish mothers who married into Muslim families, which proceeded to immigrate back to their Arab countries of origin. The organization conducts a strenuous process of Jewish identification, obtaining many documents, in order to clarify the Jewish status of each of their Jewish contacts.
Some cases turn out to be imposters, people who have distant Jewish relatives or those who are interested in Judaism. However, the bulk of the contacts that reach out to us turn out to be halachically Jewish after thorough investigation.
Yad L’Achim takes immediate action to connect these Yidden to their Yiddishkeit.
It was no coincidence that the Shabbos times were first released the week of Parshas Balak, when Bilaam attempted to curse the Jewish people, and instead blessed them.
Balak ends with the story of Pinchas, who risked his life to protect the sanctity of Am Yisroel.
“Today,” says Amir, “we continue to fight the same fight. To preserve Jewish practice and tradition amongst souls who could have been written off as ‘lost’. It is heartwarming to see with our own eyes how kedushas hashabbos is being brought to cities like Irbil and Sanaa. Places that feel so spiritually distant.”