Tamar Wisemon of The Jerusalem Post explores the Yemenite community in the Shiloah Valley, below the City of David in Jerusalem. The first Yemenite Jews settled there in the 1880s.
“Only the most determined of drivers will edge through the tight maze of one-way streets to reach this inconspicuous, rundown alley tucked away in the heart of one of the city’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods; most people park elsewhere and enter on foot.
“When I first began to work at Ezrat Avot, I didn’t pay much attention to the name. I assumed it was simply a Hebrew word that I was not acquainted with. After months of spelling out the street name while giving directions to the senior citizen organization, I realized that even sabras have no idea of what Tarmab is. My curiosity was aroused.
“Last Pessah, during a tour of the former Kfar Hatemanim in the Shiloah valley below the City of David, I finally learned about the origins and history of the name. Tarmab, it turns out, is neither a word nor a name; it is the Hebrew acronym of the Jewish year 1881-82. That year marks the first Yemenite aliya, more than half a century before most of Yemen’s Jews were flown to the State of Israel during Operation Flying Carpet.
“In 1881, the Jews of Yemen heard that Jews had begun to return to Jerusalem and took this as a sign of the imminent arrival of the messiah. Their sages had interpreted the biblical verse “Let me climb the palm” (Song of Songs 7:9) as an allusion to the year of redemption, because the numerical value of the Hebrew word “the palm” – 642 – corresponded to the Hebrew year 5642 (1881/82). A few hundred of the poorest members of the community left Sana’a and several nearby villages. After an arduous journey by way of India, Iraq and Egypt to Jaffa, traveling by donkey, foot and boat, depleting all of their savings on the way, they arrived at Jerusalem.
“Although immigration from Yemen to Palestine continued almost without interruption until 1914, with 10 percent of the Yemenite Jews arriving during this period, these “foreign” Jews with their unfamiliar customs were met with distrust by both the established Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities of the Old Yishuv. After some miserable years within the protective walls of the Old City, destitute and scorned by their Ashkenazi neighbors, the Yemenites decided to establish their own community and began moving out to the hills facing the City of David, where they lived in caves, easy prey for attacks.
“Ironically, it was only when the Christian community began to focus its charitable work on this destitute group, that the Jewish establishment came to the support of their brethren. Philanthropists purchased land in the Silwan valley and built the small village of Kfar Hashiloah, popularly known as Kfar Hatemanim (the Yemenite village), in 1884. While the village attracted those who wished to return to the isolated, rural lifestyle they had lived in Yemen, the residents were still vulnerable to attack from nearby Arab villages and many preferred the safety of living close to the established Jewish community.”