American Jewish rescue effort saves dozens of Afghans

Publication Date28 Aug 2021
AuthorRON KAMPEAS/JTA
One of them was Moshe Margaretten, a haredi Orthodox fixer whose passion is bringing Jews out of danger.

Margaretten paid Moti Kahana, an Israeli-American businessman who helped extract people from war-torn Syria, to be a middleman and get Simantov out — but Kahana told Margaretten what many others had heard: Simantov was not leaving because of his longstanding refusal to grant his Israeli wife a "get," or decree of divorce. Simantov feared facing Israel's legal system, which penalizes such a refusal.

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But Kahana hatched another idea. The team he sent into Kabul to extract Simantov learned that there were plenty of women in danger of being targeted by the Taliban as they assumed total control of Afghanistan — among them members of the country's national women's soccer team, along with judges and prosecutors.

Was Margaretten interested in paying for their extraction?

"Absolutely," Margaretten said. "Give me 10 hours."

Within a day, Margaretten, who is based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, had drummed up $80,000 from his haredi Orthodox community. He wired the funds to Kahana's consultancy, GDC, and by Wednesday, Kahana was, from his New Jersey farm, coordinating the extraction of at least four soccer players, a judge, a prosecutor and their families, over land and by air. Kahana said they numbered 23 people. Margaretten said the money would also assist the refugees after their departure.

By Friday, Kahana said his team had extracted another 23 people.

Khalida Popal, the former captain of the national women's soccer team who is now based in Denmark and is leading efforts to extract the players, thanked Margaretten's nonprofit, Tzedek Association, on Twitter on Thursday afternoon, as the world was reeling from the news of a massive suicide bomb attack on Kabul's airport.

"Thank you ⁦ @Tzedek_Assoc for your incredible help w/ this life-saving rescue effort, including coordination to the airport and other routes, and political connections," she said. "Together we are saving lives!" (Margaretten said that some of the funds are being directed through Tzedek, and some are going directly to the project to assist the refugees.)

Popal did not add details and did not return requests for an interview, but her expression of relief came after days of tweets expressing anxiety and uncertainty.

"This is exactly where our players were last...

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