Vanished girl back from Syria, 68 years later



After almost seven decades living as part of an Arab family in Syria, a Jewish woman has returned home to Haifa.

Rachel Elkayam disappeared from Tel Aviv in 1947 aged 16. Her parents and siblings had no idea what happened to her. In actual fact, she had eloped with a Muslim man.

The marriage was short-lived, because he was killed by a sniper during Arab-Jewish clashes. But she could not return to her parents because by the time of his death she was pregnant with his baby, and her in-laws insisted she stayed with them. "His parents, they all went to Syria and took me," she recalled in a report shown on Israel's Channel 2. "I didn't want to go to Syria."

She was married to one of her late husband's brothers, who treated her violently, and dreamed of returning home, but with no way to do so. She once gave a letter to a German man who was travelling to Haifa telling her parents she was alive, but it never arrived. And so, until one of her grandchildren went to the Israeli embassy in London last year, she was presumed dead.

One of her nine siblings, Geula, received a phone call from London, asking if she had a sister called Rachel. And this Chanucah, following a secret operation involving Israel's Interior Ministry and the Jewish Agency, she returned home, now aged 85.

She is still relearning Hebrew and tends to lapse into Arabic, but there is one Hebrew phrase that she remembers perfectly, and which she recited at the Interior Ministry when asked questions about her religion. It was the first line of the Shema prayer: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One."

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