A mild-mannered rabbi in Brooklyn has become an unlikely savior to dozens of at-risk Afghan refugees still seeking to flee to country.
“We are not stopping,” Moshe Margaretten, 40, told The Post from his Williamsburg home. “What we are doing now is trying to focus on high risk. Who is at the most risk?”
In the weeks since Taliban forces seized Kabul, Margaretten and his non-profit Tzedek Association have played a hand in the rescue of an Afghan prosecutor and her family and members of the Afghan women’s soccer team.
“Thank you @Tzedek_Assoc /https://tzedekassociation.org/for your incredible help w/ this life-saving rescue effort, including coordination to the airport and other routes, and political connections. Together we are saving lives!” Khalida Popal, a former captain of Afghanistan’s women’s national team, said in a tweeted shoutout last week.
The rabbi was also involved in an operation that saw four Afghan children reunited with their mother in Albany this week. Smiling photos and videos of the reunion were retweeted to the Tzedek Twitter account Monday. There are more operations currently underway.
Margaretten has worked closely on the issue with some of the most powerful people in Washington. In a statement, Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office told the Post they had coordinated with the rabbi to help evacuate the soccer team and other vulnerable Afghans.
“We appreciate his efforts, as well as the efforts of so many other community leaders across New York, who have stepped up to help those who supported our mission in Afghanistan in their hour of need,” Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro told The Post.
Margaretten fell into his new role by happenstance after activists called upon him to raise funds for an evacuation of Zebulon Simantov, the last Jew living in Afghanistan.
Within hours, Margaretten — who is Orthodox — says he raised $80,000 from his donor networks and hired Israeli-American contractor Moti Kahana to get the job done. The mission, however, was stymied after Simantov refused to leave.
“I dealt with so many crazy people and he is on the top of the list,” Kahana, 53, recalled. Kahana and the rabbi decided to use the unspent funds to help other vulnerable Afghan Muslims.
“We are doing more judges, prosecutors, mostly women and children are the main focus and people who have helped the US government. Also US citizens if there are any,” Kahana said. “I am basically just an Uber dispatcher in Kabul.”
Kahana, who is now receiving financing from multiple NGO’s, says he is hauling out dozens of different people every evening. He declined to elaborate on the details.
Margaretten said the issue for him was central to the Jewish experience.
“My grandparents from all sides are Holocaust survivors. They all escaped the Nazis,” Margaretten said. “We all went through the kind of pain these people are going through and we have to do whatever we can.”
The Afghanistan rescues are the latest chapter for Margaretten, who, despite his youth, has emerged as one of the most influential behind-the-scenes Jewish leaders in New York in recent years.
Before Afghanistan, Margaretten worked closely in developing the First Step Act, former President Trump’s signature criminal justice reform initiative and helped spring disgraced Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last year. Many gave Margaretten credit when Trump commuted the sentence of infamous Orthodox fraudster Sholom Rubashkin. The former president gave Margaretten a personal shoutout during a 2019 Hanukkah reception at the White House.