Four Afghan children have been evacuated to the United States following the intervention of a group of Orthodox Jews in the U.S. who have been working feverishly to rescue Afghans as the evacuation window closes.
The turning point in the desperate attempt to rescue the four siblings began when Rabbi Moshe Margaretten of Tzedek Association saw an article posted to CNN.com last week detailing the plight of a woman named Suneeta, an Afghan who has permanent residency in the U.S. and has been living in the States since 2018.
Suneeta lives in Albany, N.Y., and has four children under 18 in Afghanistan living with relatives. Now that the Taliban have taken control of the country, Suneeta feared her children were in danger because her husband had worked with U.S. troops until he went missing eight years ago. (Suneeta declined to give CNN her last name, or her children’s names, out of fear for their safety.)
“This is like a nightmare,” said Suneeta. “I’m very scared.”
Sara Lowry, an attorney for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants who has been working with Suneeta, told CNN that the American government approved allowing the children in as refugees in June 2020, but they have not been able to get a visa issued.
“We’re just terrified that we’re not going to be able to get these children out,” Lowry said. “If there are other countries that are willing to go get them, if there are journalists still in the city that are willing to be an escort for them, we are appealing … to everyone, everywhere, please help us.”
Margaretten, a Monsey-based prison-reform activist, has recently expanded his activism to other areas, and immediately decided to answer the plea, he told Hamodia in an interview Friday.
He has already used his connections in governments and elsewhere to help evacuate people from Afghanistan recentlu, though he says he cannot yet detail all the people and connections and methods for fear of jeopardizing ongoing rescue operations.
Margaretten made several unsuccessful attempts to reach Lowry. Finally, after news hit Thursday of the bombing outside the Kabul airport, “I figured those kids were probably near the airport and in danger, and I decided I absolutely had to reach the lawyer.”
Lipa Boyarski, who works in a pidyon shvuyim organization under the auspices of the Aleph Institute (where Lipa’s more famous brother Zvi Boyarski serves as Director of Constitutional Advocacy), was finally able to get ahold of Lowry.
“I asked if she has any contact with the kids,” Margaretten says. “She located the kids, and our people on the ground made a connection with them.”
Margaretten’s “people on the ground” are a group of former U.S. Delta Force officers and allied Afghans, who help navigate the chaotic world that is human transport in Kabul in these desperate times. To put together this group, Margaretten joined with Moti Kahana, a New Jersey businessman with connections in the Middle East who has worked to get Syrians injured in that country’s Civil War to hospitals in Israel.
Margaretten reached out to his network of Orthodox Jewish donors, who within 24 hours pledged $100,000 for these rescue operations to save the lives of Afghans.
Suneeta’s children, it turned out, had been waiting near the airport for 30 hours, trying to get on one of the last lifesaving planes airlifting people out of the country before August 31, when U.S. President Joe Biden said American troops will withdraw from the country.
Margaretten appealed to the office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as well as the White House, who quickly arranged the paperwork for the children. Kahana and Margaretten’s “people on the ground” in Afghanistan helped the children navigate the treacherous roads and Taliban checkpoints.
By Thursday night New York time, the children were on a government rescue flight, first to Qatar, with an eventual connection to New York to be reunited with their mother.
“So many people have been desperately calling us, crying for help to get people out of Afghanistan” says Margaretten. “We want to help everyone we can, but we are doing it order of the highest risk and most vulnerable, which these young kids certainly were.”
This was not the first successful operation by Margaretten and Kahana’s teams. They were previously instrumental in helping to evacuate the Afghan women’s soccer team in recent days.
And they are coordinating other rescue operations of Afghans, but Margaretten says he can’t yet discuss these ongoing and dangerous operations.
“I feel this is my duty, especially as a Jew,” Margaretten says. “Our ancestors went through similar situations so many times, having to flee persecution. Our sages say that if one saves a life, it is as if he has saved the entire world. We are using all our energy, resources and connections to save as many lives as possible.