Yemenite Jews ‘ will not budge’… until they do

Since this CNN report from Raida was filed in 2008, numbers of Jews will have dwindled still further (with thanks: Sami, Rona)

One can understand why the tiny remnant of the Jewish community of Yemen has hitherto refused to leave out of fierce loyalty to their protector, President Saleh. What’s more, as this report in Arutz Sheva says, the anti-Zionist Satmar are paying some to stay. But Saleh’s imminent toppling from power could be a game-changer. The Yemeni border, we are told, is open and the Jews are ‘free to leave at any time’.

The tiny Jewish community of Yemen is not afraid and does not feel compelled to flee the political upheaval wracking their country.

Despite calls from concerned relatives and friends living abroad, Yemeni Jews say there is no threat to their lives.

Jewish organizations in Israel and the United States have also reached out to the community, which is comprised of some 250 people. Most of the Jews live today in the capital, San’a, although a few — who receive financial aid from the Satmar Chassidic group — still live in Amran and Raida.

Nevertheless, “they absolutely will not budge,” said the head of a Jewish group trying to persuade the Jews to leave, who requested anonymity. “Even calls from Yemenite rabbis who once lived there and have left have been unsuccessful.”

Despite this, a small number of Jews in Yemen do appear to be making contingency plans to leave, according to the source. As in Tunisia, the Yemeni border is “completely open,” the Jews say, and they are “free to leave” anytime they want – at least for now.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has long enjoyed a warm relationship with the country’s Jews and has in the past protected them when necessary.

At the start of 2009, Yemeni Jewish leader Rabbi Moshe bin Yahya bin Ya’aish al-Nahari was murdered in the grand market in Amran. The killing, which drew widespread international condemnation, prompted the president to order the Jews evacuated from the city.

Saleh arranged for the 50 families to each receive a plot of land in an area east of the capital, San’a. He also allocated to each a grant of $10,000 with which to rebuild their households.

He arranged a similar transfer for the Jews of the Bani Salem district in Sa’ada governorate after they were harassed by Houthi followers earlier in the year.

However, Saleh’s 32-year reign is nearly done; protesters have been calling for his ouster since the end of January.

Read article in full

JTA News article


  • Thanks. This makes more sense now. I don't doubt Sammish's explanation, but it cannot be that ancestral feelings and such can be so strong as to risk to many Jews or next generations of Jews.

  • many of them have family that had been kidnapped by muslims and forced into marriages and they don't want to leave because that would mean leaving family behind. also, some are married to more than one woman, and again, moving would disrupt this family structure as almost all other countries would force them to choose between wives and pick one. some insight into why some stay.

  • Vanguard,
    I am not sure I agree about your claim that Yemeni Jews fear that their faith would be diluted. Faith may be an issue but I do not think it is at all a problem with Judaism and you know that. It is their ethnicity, their habits, their particular cultural traits which are strongly tied with landscape of Yemen. Jews are strong in their faith but they come on all sort of racial cultural and linguinstic blends.

    I do not remember the name of the academic who suggested that it was the very dispersion and exile of the Jews to the far corners of the globe that made Judaism's survival an unprecedented historical marvel. He went to even suggest that had the Jewish state survived thought the onslaught of the Hellenist and Roman military might, judaism as we know it now will have ceased to exist. I am not sure I agree entirely with his impossible prediction, but nonetheless it highlights the importance of the ethnically diverse group of Jews who made it possible. And I think Yemeni Jews played a role in this. To see them fold their belongings and throwing down the towel would be a sad ending story. Even if one Jew remains it would be better than none. Presence of souls is far more uplifting than empty homes and saccaged house of prayers with tourists roaming around thinking about what could have been instead.

    Of course we all hope the state of Yemen would allow them to carry on with their Jewish pratices, if only because they are Yemeni.
    I believe that is not so much about the lack of willingness to make Alya, but all about the demise of an ancient culture and custom.

  • Sammish, like I said, I keep wondering. Babel is a bad example, for the magnetic pull to our Holy Land is practically tangible, especially one generation away. If they fear going to Israel might dilute their observance level, or their childrens', I'd understand the concern, but otherwise, to live as 2nd class citizens where hostility can burst open any time – I can't help but wonder why?

  • To the vanguard,
    Have you ever wondered about the "sense of place". The geography, the topography, the soil, the sand, the landscape (desolate or not) and all that comes out of them. These are things that are hard to conceive as real. Judaism being rooted in globalized dispersion and timeboundeness make it even harder to comprehend the permanency of "sense of place".

    I know the easy naive response: "New places can easily be defined and reclaimed, Judaism is timebound and not framed in one place". But at what human cost? Ever wondered about the cries for Zion on the river shores of Babylon of times old? That's what I called human suffering. One generation will always suffer (to a slow death) this sense of displacement even when the population transfer is not forced upon the people.

    The next worst thing to genocide when it comes to ethnic relations is population transfer. People loose their sense of place and thus partially their sense of who they are. But the new generations that emerge become rooted in the new environment while the old sacrificing generation will die alone with memories of the old "sense of place".

    Unless you know people who can articulate this loss and geographical alienation, I am not sure I can convince you otherwise.

    This blog raison d'etre is all about this issue of displacement. Isn't it?

  • Nice film. I keep wondering what is it they have they feel so tightly bound to this Arab country. It cannot be they lack intelligence. It must be a good reason – it's only my inability to conceive of one that has me wondering.

  • All of us have the right to stay and live safely in a country , Where ever it is , Yemen had a Jewish kingdom long before Islam rise .
    Same as the Djerbian Jews of Tunisia.

  • I think it is too easy for outsiders to say' why don't they just leave?' As you say, Sammish, Yemen is their ancestors'home, they have been there 3,000 years. We cannot begin to understand this atavistic rooting in the land.

  • Although I feel sorry for them to stay put for fear they would be killed, but at the same time, I really respect their courage and stubborness to remain in Yemen despite the uncertain future that awaits them. A Jewish presence in Yemen is ultimatly a Kadosh thing to do, even if death looms. It is after all the land of their ancestors… Shemor Yisrael..

  • They are like my dad!!he did not want to budge from Egypt.
    Then we know the rest of the story. i am sorry for them.
    Sultana latifa: a Jewush refugee from Egypt.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.