There are almost no Jews left in Pakistan. In 2014, the media reported that there were seven Jews left in Pakistan, but they hide their identities for fear of their neighbors and the authorities. Ben-Israel, 57, married with six children, describes himself as an ardent Zionist, who maintains a full Jewish life thereby endangering his life and the lives of his family. His children serve in senior positions in the education system in the country, and all of them are college graduates.
Ben-Israel holding a sign that says 'Next Year in Jerusalem'
Over the years, many Jews kept their religion in Pakistan a secret, fearing for their lives, however, the knowledge of their Jewish identity has been passed down from generation to generation.
"I know that we are descendants of the Jewish people, but I have no official documents that could prove my family's history," he says.
But paradoxically, in order to make aliyah to Israel, he is required to prove that he is Jewish. "I started thinking what I had to do to convert, but all of my friends are Muslims. Pakistan has no rabbi, a Jewish community, or a synagogue - and therefore I can't perform the official steps required for conversion."
One of the conditions for the conventional conversion process, or alternatively, to be recognized under the Jewish Law of Return - is belonging to a Jewish community. Over the past five years, Ben-Israel has been studying Hebrew, the Bible, kashrut laws and whatever else is required, and says he is ready to convert even though his Judaism has been passed down to him throughout the generations.
"I'm living a Jewish lifestyle, and I make it a point to celebrate the holidays with my family," he says, "but every day that passes I am aware that this is not an easy process."
Ben-Israel's Facebook page
"I live in a society in which the very desire to be connected to the Jewish people could put me in danger, and the fact that I don't show up at the mosque for prayers, and I'm not marrying off my grown up daughters raises suspicions among my neighbors. So why am I doing this? Because I have an inner voice that is guiding me to the truth. Pakistan is not a simple country, journalist Daniel Pearl was murdered here because he was Jewish. But I'm willing to take those risks, because I love my people and God."
In pictures he sent me, Ben-Israel and his family are seen celebrating Hanukkah and Israel's Independence Day, as well as meetings with other people who see themselves as descendants of the Jewish people. They avoid meeting out in the open to escape their neighbors' watchful eye.
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