In an exclusive report, the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia has revealed that Josh Fattal, one of the two American hikers released from Iranian prison last week, is Jewish. This information had been purposely kept out of the press for the 26 months of his captivity for obvious reasons.
Although local friends, acquaintances and rabbis in suburban Elkins Park, Pa., Fattal’s home town, knew of his being Jewish, it was a deliberate decision on the part of the Fattal family to decline offers of assistance from Jewish organizations. The hiker’s Jewish identity was kept almost completely under wraps, and the Exponent refrained from reporting the story. “When it comes to someone’s physical safety, we’ll always err on the side of caution, even if it means suppressing such a dramatic and important story,” said Lisa Hostein the paper’s executive editor.
Fattal, 29, had been in Israel just prior to meeting up with friends Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd in Syria and then continuing on together to visit Iraqi Kurdistan. It was as they hiked in Iraqi Kurdistan in July 2009 that they allegedly — according to Iranian officials — crossed the Iranian border, prompting Iran to claim they were U.S. spies and arrest them. Shourd was released in September 2010.
Josh Fattal is the son of Laura and Jacob Fattal. Jacob Fattal is an Iraqi Jew who moved to Israel before ultimately settling in the Philadelphia area. An avid traveler, Josh Fatal has visited Israel several times.
Rabbi Eliot Holin of Elkins Park’s Congregation Kol Ami presided over Fattal’s bar mitzvah at Congregation Rodeph Shalom 16 years ago. This past Shabbat, in celebration of Fattal and Bauer’s release, Holin invited a member of his congregation to “sound the shofar as ‘the great shofar of freedom’ blast to announce their return home and our abundant joy for them, their families and ourselves.”
It will indeed be a happy New Year for the Fattal family and their community.