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Days of Atonement: When a Father of Four is Marked for Deportation, Who's Really Being Punished? 

Wednesday, Sep 18 2013

On Saturday, Aug. 17, at around 9 a.m., immigration officials knocked on the door of a squat, two-tone apartment block in the Presidio. Moshe Hakim, an unassuming 56-year-old Israeli, was arrested within, and led away in handcuffs.

He was, at that moment, transformed. He ceased to be a San Franciscan, a shopkeeper, a husband, a father of four.

He became a statistic.

"There is 11 million people like us," says Hakim's wife, Galit, in a near whisper. "We are not the only people that is having this problem."

Her daughter Zohar, ever the American teen, doesn't glance up from an ever-present smartphone. "To be exact, mom," she interrupts, "there are 12 million."

Less than a week after Hakim was pried away from his family, the Obama administration issued a policy seemingly tailored to address him specifically. Titled "Facilitating Parental Interests in the Course of Civil Immigration Enforcement Activities," the directive instructs federal officials to use "prosecutorial discretion" in cases involving parents — especially the parents of American citizens. All four of Hakim's children are minors, and three are citizens. What's more, his 15-year-old son, Itzhak, is severely autistic and requires 24-hour care. The boy has spent the past month screaming for his father into the wee hours and methodically destroying the family's apartment.

There is, however, no gap greater than that between rules and guidelines. Hakim is currently incarcerated in a Yuba County jail and his family has been informed he could be deported at a moment's notice. He could be sent off without his relatives even receiving the courtesy of a phone call.

Your humble narrator first met Galit Hakim in the family's Grant Street antique store earlier this month, on the morning after Rosh Hashanah. Jewish New Year is a joyous event marked by raucous merrymaking and honey-dipped apples signifying sweet times to come.

Sweetness and joy are not to be found here.

Galit's large brown eyes are red with tears. She was up cradling Itzhak at 4 a.m., and is attempting to parent four children, run a business, and remedy her husband's legal woes all on her own. She seems ready, at any moment, to silently implode.

"All we wanted," she says, "was a quiet life."

Moshe and Galit "fell in love on the phone." They both hail from Jaffa, in the shadow of Tel Aviv, but he was living in San Francisco and she was staying in Miami. Massive phone bills ensued, so he wired her a plane ticket to the city. She smiles at the memory. "In six months, we had a wedding. In two months we got pregnant with our first baby." That baby is now a 17-year-old senior at Lowell High.

Hakim "never found himself in Israel." Thirty-three of his 56 years have been spent here in America. This was the place with a better tomorrow. The place to start a family. The place where you don't have to worry about terrorists dismembering your sister — which happened to Orly Hakim in 1989.

In short, this was Hakim's home. And, Thomas Wolfe be damned, Moshe Hakim decided he could go home again — and again, and again. In fact, he came and left several times since being denied re-entry in 1998 after impulsively departing the country to attend an Israeli wedding, in spite of lawyers' orders to avoid doing just that.

"Stupid, stupid mistake," grumbles Galit.

Mistakes beget mistakes. The first attorney she hired following her husband's August arrest filed a motion that understated the tally of Hakim's American children (he has three, not two); failed to note Itzhak's severe condition; and, for good measure, spelled his name "Hakeem." Her second attorney failed to return any of her phone calls. When asked what could keep Hakim stateside, attorney No. 3, Alison Dixon, blurts out, "a miracle."

In lieu of that, the family has started up a petition. Dixon is also hoping someone in government — anyone — can intervene on the family's behalf. Immigration officials, the lawyer says, seem unmoved by the recent Obama policy directive. Short of "a private bill" introduced on the federal level, she can't fathom any remedies.

And that might be tantamount to a miracle.

Yom Kippur is not a pleasant holiday; fasting all day while atoning for one's sins has a whiff of the medieval. As one grows older, the burden grows no less onerous. But it becomes profoundly and achingly meaningful. This is true regardless of one's level of religiosity. This is true whether or not you believe in God.

Just as you may be loath to surrender your pain — the pain that makes us who we are — the obligation of atonement becomes part of who we are as well. It forces us to confront the starkest and most significant questions: Who have I wronged? How can I lead a better life? Who have I become?

Well, how did I get here?

For Moshe Hakim, locked in a Yuba County jail cell during the Day of Atonement on Saturday, these questions loomed large. He has made his share of mistakes. He is, most certainly, paying for them. But so are others. Others who made no mistakes. "Why take a father with four children and a special-needs child away from his house?" cries Galit. "He didn't harm nobody."

Atonement is an intensely personal experience. But the Hakims are ensnared within an intensely impersonal process. It's not clear who, if anyone, will atone for a broken system in which the punishment for the guilty is to harm the innocent.

It is all too clear, however, who is made to suffer.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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