Tag: Jews of Yemen/ Aden

Israeli government agrees to open up Yemen child’s grave

The latest development in the saga of the ‘disappeared Yemenite children’ is the  ‘ground-breaking’ decision by the Israeli Health Ministry to open up the grave of a baby who died in 1952. Meanwhile the unpublished findings of a report alleging that medical staff were implicated in the maltreatment of children, primarily from Yemen,  were disputed at a stormy Knesset hearing this week. The Israeli government last year approved a NIS 162 million (almost $50 million) compensation programme to families who lost children. The Times of Israel reports:

Yemenite children with the Alaska Airlines plane which airlifted Jews to Israel (Photo: AJM)

The Health Ministry said Sunday that it is preparing to open the grave of a baby who died in 1952 next week to confirm to the boy’s surviving family of Yemenite immigrants that he really is buried there, and was not spirited away from them 64 years ago.

The planned procedure will mark the first time that a grave is opened for DNA testing in the Yemenite children affair, the decades-old claim by immigrants who arrived from Yemen that their children and siblings were kidnapped from them as babies in the 1950s.

The child is Uziel Houri, and he is buried in the Segula cemetery in the central city of Petah Tikvah. Five families related to Houri asked for and received a court order permitting the exhumation.

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A Knesset Health Committee meeting on Monday turned turbulent during a discussion over an unpublished Health Ministry report, which alluded to medical staff wrongdoing in the so-called Yemenite children affair, with calls to reveal its findings publicly.

During the committee meeting, a Health Ministry legal adviser rejected the unpublished report by former ministry deputy director general Prof. Itamar Grotto that indicated a history of medical staff involvement in the maltreatment of children from Yemen, North Africa and the Balkans during the early years of the State of Israel.

The legal adviser, Meir Broder, instead adopted the criticism of Prof. Shifra Schwartz, a history of medicine researcher, who denied Grotto’s findings of potential medical staff involvement. Broder’s denial of Grotto’s report created a storm at the meeting.

Yemenite Jews arrived in 1881, preceding ‘First Aliya’

Shortly before what is known as “The First Aliyah”, a group of Jews from Yemen arrived in the Land of Israel. Several dozen Yemenite families had embarked on a long and arduous journey to settle in Jerusalem. How did they overcome hostility and who came to their aid? Amit Naor for The Israel National Library charts the remarkable story of Silwan (Shiloah) outside the Jerusalem city walls.(With thanks: Michelle)

Yemenite Jews settled outside the city walls (photoi: National Library of Israel)

When did “The First Aliyah” – the first major wave of Zionist immigration to the Land of Israel – begin? If you answer by recounting the pogroms in Russia in 1881 and the pioneers of the Bilu movement, you may be mistaken. There were various reasons that led historians to label this wave of immigrants from Europe as “The First Aliyah”, when in fact Jews had been immigrating to the region in a steady trickle before then, from different parts of the globe. Several months before the Eastern European Jews landed in the port of Jaffa to expand and revitalize the local Jewish community, another group of Jews had arrived, but to much less historical fanfare. These were Yemenite Jews, most of them from the city of Sana’a, who had set out on an arduous journey to the Land of Israel shortly after the festival of Shavuot, in May 1881.

What led them to take this step? The reasons are not entirely clear, but apparently, a contributing factor was the Ottoman governor of Yemen’s issuing of an immigration permit. The first few arrived in August 1881. In the following months, and throughout 1882, more immigrants arrived from Yemen, about 200 people in all. In comparison, the Bilu pioneers that landed a few months later numbered only a few dozen. The Hebrew name given to this wave of Yemenite immigrants, E’eleh BeTamar, means, “I will climb up into the palm tree”. It is taken from a verse in the Song of Songs (7:9), and also derives from an anagram of the Hebrew year 5642 – תרמ”ב (corresponding to 1881-1882 and pronounced tarmab in Hebrew).

The Jewish community in the Land of Israel at the time, the Yishuv, consisted of both new arrivals and long-time residents who had been around for generations. Immigrant newcomers had just established the farming community of Petah Tikva, another at Rosh Pina had recently been abandoned, to be re-established the following year, and studies were underway in the Jewish agricultural school at Mikveh Israel.  Yet the majority of Jews in the Land of Israel resided in the four holy cities: Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed. These people were known collectively as the “Old Yishuv.”

Homes in Shiloah (Photo: National Library of Israel)

The new immigrants from Yemen had their sights set on only one place – Zion, Jerusalem. Their journey had been long and difficult, with few friendly and welcoming faces along the way. They had to pass through rough terrain, traveling through Egypt and India, until they finally reached the Holy Land. Even those who had left Yemen with means arrived in the Land of Israel with their pockets empty.

Once in the Land of Israel, they made their way to Jerusalem. But when they reached the city, these Jews from a distant land, dressed in their unique garb, or what was left of it, were met with hostility. The Yemenite Jews not only looked very different from the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews already living there, they followed different traditions, which made it difficult for them to integrate into the Jewish population. What’s more, some of the locals even called into question the new immigrants’ Judaism. This was somewhat ironic, considering Jews were living in Yemen well before Europe’s Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities even coalesced into existence.

The suspicion and doubt also had practical implications. The Old Yishuv in Jerusalem was organized according to community networks, called kollels, which facilitated financial support for the city’s Jewish residents. The Yemenite Jews’ incompatibility with the familiar ethnic patterns caused the community’s administrators to refuse to accept them into the existing kollels and, as a result, they did not receive their share of the charity funds that supported the city’s Jews during this period. In practical terms, this also meant that the recent Jewish arrivals from Yemen were forbidden from settling within the walls of the Old City.

Destitute and looked upon as foreigners, the Yemenite Jewish immigrants had no choice but to seek housing elsewhere. Still, they did not relinquish their dream of settling in Jerusalem. As a first step, they built simple huts outside the Old City’s walls and slept outdoors, under the open sky. Some Yemenite immigrants even slept in caves, barns, and other makeshift shelters in the vicinity of the walled city.

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More about Silwan





New Haggadah illustrates Jewish diversity

As Passover approaches, renowned photographer Zion Ozeri has produced a new version of the Haggadah, the story of the Biblical Exodus from Egypt, to grace every Seder table.

The Haggadah in Hebrew and English translation is called Pictures tell: a Passover Haggadah. It is illustrated with Ozeri’s photographs,  taken during his travels across the world.

It’s an old story, told in a novel way. The photographs are of Jews in India, Argentina, Ukraine, Israel and New York, among other places.  What do these Jews have in common? They may speak different languages  but they are all members of the Jewish people united across time and space by an unbreakable bond of custom, culture, tradition and memory.

Award-winning Ozeri has made it his mission to seek out far-flung Jewish communities, some of whom have since disappeared, such as the ancient community of Yemen.

“All pictures relate to the text on the page,” says Ozeri. who was born into a Yemenite family in  Israel and now lives in the US. ” It can easily trigger a conversation around the table. It’s also important for me to show the diversity and mosaic of the Jewish people, dispelling the perception, that all Jews are white European, privileged.  There are lots of insights from renown rabbis and scholars of different backgrounds, including one from the late rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l.”

The text of the Haggadah is interspersed with these insights. There are also questions to stimulate the curiosity of children.

Zion Ozeri’s work has appeared in prestige national publications and has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the world. He has also published The Jewish World Family Haggadah (Simon and Shuster) and a coffee table book, The Jews of Yemen: the last generation (Keter).

A miraculous reunion between mother and son

Some days Sarah Ansbacher, manager of the Aden museum in Tel Aviv, hears amazing stories from visitors. Once in a while she will hear a mind-blowing story. This is a story of a miraculous reunion between a mother and the son she abandoned. We thank Sarah for letting us reproduce her post.

The first kiss from his mother on being re-united with her son, abandoned by her aged three
He was born in Jaffa to Jewish parents who had immigrated from Aden and Iraq. In WW2 his father joined the British army but sadly, he fell during service in North Africa in 1943.
Then, when the boy wasn’t much older than three years old, his mother got remarried to a Muslim man from Jaffa. He didn’t want this Jewish boy as a stepson. So she abandoned him to her family. Then she left with her second husband for a new life in Jordan. Her parents were livid and felt that his mother (their daughter) needed to take responsibility for her son. Ultimately, the boy ended up in an orphanage in a suburb of Tel Aviv.
Despite his tough start in life, he thrived and rose through the ranks of the Israeli army. In the 1970s, a time when there still wasn’t peace between Israel and Jordan, he was the commander in charge of the crossing between the two countries and gave permission for who could cross over into Israel.
One day he got an application from a woman in Jordan. He recognised the name: it was his mother. The one who had abandoned him all those years ago. He didn’t want to tell the soldiers his background so told them that when she crossed to treat her with particular respect as she was part of the Jordanian royal family.
Before being allowed to enter Israel, she also had to go through an interview. And the person who interviewed her was him, though she didn’t recognise him as her son. They spoke through an interpreter. She was asked why she wanted to enter Israel. She explained that many years ago she had a son, but she didn’t know what had become of him and she wanted to find him. The interpreter (who was told the background story) began to cry as he interpreted between them.
Finally, the commander said she would be granted permission to enter Israel.
‘Now, do you want to meet your son?’ he said.
Yes, she did.
‘You are looking at him,’ he said. ‘I am your son.’
And she burst into tears and hugged him.

BBC discovers true love in Israel

For its Valentine’s Day story, the BBC decided to feature good news from Israel – for a change.  Zechariah and Shama’a  have been married for 91 years. Both were orphaned in Yemen and married aged 11 and 12. The news item does not spell out that this was to avoid forced conversion to Islam of Jewish orphans, but  is refreshingly blunt in saying that the couple was forced to flee poverty and persecution . They have 64 grand-  and great-grandchildren today.

Zechariah and Shama’a, still in love (photo:BBC)

Zechariah and Shama’a have been married for 91 years. As Jewish orphans in Yemen, they married young to avoid being wed outside of their faith and culture.

They survived extreme poverty and persecution, and were some of the first Yemeni Jews to move to Israel when the state was founded.

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