Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Ilan’s Exodus

Michal Ish Shalom

For 150 days, American law student Ilan Grapel was held in solitary confinement in an Egyptian prison, accused of spying for Israel and fomenting revolt in Cairo. Back home in Queens after a low-level prisoner swap, Grapel spoke to Mishpacha about his four nightmarish months when he envisioned himself doomed forever, revealing how an accidental foray into the world of the yeshivah helped him survive in Egyptian captivity.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Three powerful knocks on the door shattered the silence of the night, which was already giving way to the rising sun. A moment later, a group of plainclothes police burst into the $9-per-night room in one ofCairo’s seedier hotels, flashlights pointed at the lump in the bed.

Shu ismak?” The guttural tones demanded the identity of the young man who awoke in a fright. He handed them his two passports — one American, the other Israeli.

“Ilan Grapel,” a mustached man read off the name.

A standard inspection of the low-class hotels, Grapel thought naively. He was unconcerned, certain that the matter would be concluded when the men saw his passports were in order.

But the strongmen had other ideas. Without giving an explanation, they ordered him to dress quickly and proceeded to handcuff him. He was bundled into a black car and blindfolded so that he couldn’t see where he was being taken.

He still didn’t know who had taken him prisoner, until he was brought into an interrogation room. Only then did he discover that he had been arrested by the Egyptian security forces. “You have been arrested on charges of spying forIsrael,” his captors informed him.

From out of his imagination, a vision of the face of Azzam Azzam — who languished in an Egyptian prison for eight years under charges of espionage forIsrael— appeared and floated in front of his eyes. His stomach turned at the mere thought that the same fate awaited him.

Grapel — a law school student who, at the time of the January revolution, went to Egypt to help Darfur refugees — was more fortunate than Azzam Azzam; he was finally released at the end of October, after over four months in captivity, in a prisoner swap for 25 petty thieves and border smugglers being held in Israel. “Don’t worry, we’re not actually releasing anyone we want in our jails anymore,” an Israeli official told Grapel soon after he landed in Israelafter the swap. After those four harrowing months, Grapel spoke with Mishpacha from his home in Queens, where he’s staying until his return toEmoryLawSchool inAtlanta next semester.


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Evolution vs. Revolution
Shoshana Friedman I call it the “what happened to my magazine?” response
Up, Up, and Away
Rabbi Moshe Grylak What a fraught subject Eretz Yisrael is, to this day
Where Do You Come From?
Yonoson Rosenblum Could they be IDF officers with no Jewish knowledge?
Heaven Help Us
Eytan Kobre Writing about anti-Semitism should rouse, not soothe
Work/Life Solutions with Chedva Kleinhandler
Moe Mernick “Failures are our compass to success”
An Un-Scientific Survey
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Are Jerusalemites unfriendly? Not necessarily
Out of Anger
Jacob L. Freedman How Angry Lawyer was finally able to calm down
5 Things You Didn’t Know about…Yitzy Bald
Riki Goldstein He composed his first melody at eight years old
When the Floodgates of Song Open, You’re Never Too Old
Riki Goldstein Chazzan Pinchas Wolf was unknown until three years ago
Who Helped Advance These Popular Entertainers?
Riki Goldstein Unsung deeds that boosted performers into the limelight
Your Task? Ask
Faigy Peritzman A tangible legacy I want to pass on to my children
Are You There?
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Emotional withdrawal makes others feel lonely, abandoned
A Peace of a Whole
Rebbetzin Debbie Greenblatt Love shalom more than you love being right
Seminary Applications
Rabbi Zecharya Greenwald, as told to Ariella Schiller It’s just as hard for seminaries to reject you