30 Heshvan 5776
Rosh Hodesh Alef Kislev
Why would haShem pay so much attention to the destruction of Yemen at this time? Not only did Chapala land on Yemen, but on her heels came Megh, which left this past Tuesday. Even though Megh turned out not to be as strong a storm as Chapala, she still caused a lot of wind and water damage to mainland Yemen as well as to Socotra, which belongs to Yemen along with some 200 other islands (I’m sure some of them were damaged too; it just wasn’t reported.).
This is part 2 of the redemptive story behind Cyclone Chapala, the first of the two white pages in the video there. It tells the story of the event that sealed the community’s fate: the murder of a young teacher and father of nine in Yemen, which started a wave of aliyah to Israel that has not stopped yet. It isn’t so simple for those who left because some of their family and friends remain there, and they long for them to come and leave Yemen Jew-free.
The Temani history in Israel is another story altogether; you can look it up at your leisure.
Despite this, the last Jews living in dhimmitude under Yemen have finally reached out for help from the Jewish Agency. I hope the Sochnut will take this opportunity to make up to the Temani community for the damage the government caused it, and the aliyah that was protracted as a result, in the 1950s.
I apologize for the length of this post; the article was seven pages long on my computer. I could not find an English version of this story anywhere; it was originally written in Hebrew and is no longer on Israel Hayom’s Web site as of 10 November 2015; I found it at Hidabroot. I translated it and take responsibility for its accuracy, although I am not a professional translator. Please let me know if you find any errors of fact so that I may correct them for the record.
I managed to find Rod Nordland’s original New York Times, the Yemen Times and the Reuters articles quoted here and rendered their English words where appropriate: somewhat of a departure from the Hebrew article this is taken from, but I wished to assure less of a gap in the translation of the main article, which relied on them so heavily for details and context regarding the lives of the Temani Jews.
Israel Today (Israel Hayom), Monday, 3 Nisan 5775/23 March 2015
Yemenite Jews: Clear and Present Danger
By Araleh Weisberg
They are shut in their fortified compound in the center of Sana’a, hiding their Jewish clothing and jewelry, and have been suffering from harassment. Only tens of Jews are left in Yemen and after the Houthi rebel takeover of extremists on the capital, their lives are perceived to be in real danger; yet, they are in no hurry to leave. Their relatives, who escaped to Israel, are afraid for them.
La’uzah Nahari, 37, is not feeling well this week. She lives in a four-room apartment in Bnei Brak with seven of her nine children; her other two are studying in boarding schools. She made aliyah to Israel from Yemen two and a half years ago, and she speaks little Hebrew. Her daughter Leah (15) helps her communicate.
In December 2008, La’uzah lost her husband, Moshe Yaish Nahari, z”l, a 35-year-old teacher. He left to go shopping in the souk in Raida, a small town in the Amran province where the family lived, about 70 kilometers north of the capital Sana’a. Abed al-Aziz al-Abdi, a former pilot in the Yemeni air force, approached him and demanded that he convert to Islam. According to testimony, Moses replied, "You will remain a Muslim and I will remain a Jew." There were more words between the two until al-Abdi drew a gun and fired five shots into Moshe.
The Yemeni authorities were embarrassed by the murder and tried to argue that al-Abdi was emotionally disturbed. But in his inquiry the killer admits that he committed the act because Nahari did not respond to his call to convert to Islam. "All Jews should convert to Islam," he said to the police.
A heavy mourning fell on the country's Jewish community. Many Jews realized their time in Yemen was over. Some emigrated to the United States and Britain, under the influence of Satmar Hassidim, while others made aliyah to Israel. Four of Moshe’s nine children moved to the United States shortly after the murder, and then continued on to Israel. Only three years later their mother came to Israel with the other five siblings; and after them, Moshe's parents also made aliyah.
La’uzah has trouble surviving in Israel; she works cleaning houses. "I get a guaranteed income of 3,200 shekels a month, and if I go out to work and earn more than NIS 800, they will lower my allowance by a third. In Yemen I didn’t live under such pressure. Life was much easier. We had a field with a cow that gave milk, we raised fruits and vegetables, and we did not need anything.
|La'uzah Yaish Nahari with 6 of her 9 children.|
"I still have relatives in Yemen, but I do not know what is happening with them and cannot contact them."
Do you regret not staying?
"No. They killed my husband just because he was a Jew, and then I could not continue living there. The memories were too harsh."
According to one theory, Jewish settlement in Yemen began after the destruction of the First Temple. In the 1940s, the community consisted of about 50,000 people, but after the establishment of Israel about 45,000 Jews went up to Israel in Operation "On the Wings of Eagles," also called "Magic Carpet." Five thousand Jews remained in the country, living mostly in Raida and Sa’adah, which is in the north, beside their Shi’ite neighbors. Over time they dwindled to a few hundred isolated people, and after the murder of Nahari only tens remained.
With the outbreak of civil war in Yemen, harassment of the Jews by the Houthi rebels, Shi'ite extremists who are closely associated with Iran and Hezbollah, became stronger. In 2009, 400 Sa’adah Jews were evacuated to a secure site in the center of Sana’a, near the US embassy, when members of the "Ansar Allah" sent them an ultimatum: Leave immediately or be attacked.
In 2011, Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who for years cared to defend the Jews of his country, was ousted. After his dismissal from his seat, there was no one to protect them. In the gated community – a euphemistic name for ghetto – nowadays there are only about 50 Jews, who live essentially under house arrest. In 2012 another Jew, Aharon Zindani, z”l, was murdered in the Sana’a market, stabbed to death in front of his children.
Opinions are divided as to the exact number of Jews remaining in Yemen. According to records of the Jewish Agency, it is 90 people; according to the Yemeni Jewish Heritage Society, it comes to 140. The World Federation of Yemenite Jews claims that the figure goes as high as 210 Jews.
Whatever the actual figure, the concern for their fate rose in world Jewry in recent weeks, after the Houthis seized the capital, Sana’a. The motto appearing in their symbol is "Allah is great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Damn the Jews, Victory to Islam," and signs with this logo currently flood large parts of Yemen on a wide scale.
The fear among the Jews is great. Three weeks ago R., a young Jew in his twenties, was attacked in the souk by Muslims beating him all over his body. He fled from Yemen to a Western country, and does not intend to ever return. The Chief Rabbi of Yemen, Yahya Yousef, said in a conversation with the Reuters news agency: "Since last September, our movements have become very limited for fear of the security situation, and there are some members of the community who preferred to leave Yemen. We don’t want to leave. If we wanted to, we would have done so a long time ago."
The newspaper Yemen Times reported that two Jews were beaten two months ago by the Houthis while they were shopping in Sana’a. "They were approached near Bab Al-Yemen as they were leaving the city by two men, who noticed them because of their Payot [long twisted locks of hair worn by observant Jewish men of all backgrounds – Yemen Times]," said Rabbi Yousef Habib, who lives in the fortified compound in the city, told the newspaper. "The two men stopped them and ordered that they praise the prophet Mohammed, however, the two refused. As a result, they were then publically [sic] beaten, and had their possessions confiscated."
Habib moved to Sana’a in 2006, when his house was bombed by the Yemeni regime in the context of its war against the Houthis. "Many of us come from the city of Sa’adah, the traditional homeland of the Houthis, and we know them all to [sic] well," he said in an interview for the local newspaper. "Many of us came to Sana'a fleeing Ansar Allah, now it’s like they followed us here."
Haboub Salem Moussa, 36, migrated along with Rabbi Habib. "The Houthis pursued us everywhere we went," he says, "attacks and even forced conversions were common in that time.
“It was a very traumatizing experience,” said Mousa, describing his experience fleeing to Sana’a. “Even after arriving here [Sana’a], we didn’t feel safe mixing with the local population. The government lets us live in Tourist City, away from prying eyes…
“When I first arrived in Sana'a I still had my locks,” he said. “However, people recognized me as a Jew right away, and would shout and harass me in the street,” he added. “So I decided to get rid of them [the payot – CDG]. I'm not happy about it, but it was necessary.” Despite the hardships he faces, Mousa says he does not intend on leaving Yemen. “Most of us [Yemeni Jews] have left, but I won’t. This is my country, I’ll die here."
Habib sees things a little differently: "To be a Jew in Yemen means to live in danger. It's been like that for a long time, but in recent months it has become really scary. Most Jews are now living in areas controlled by Houthis, and everyone thinks about fleeing."
Among the remaining Jews in Yemen are the parents and seven brothers of Y., a 33-year-old resident of Be'er Sheva. He made aliyah on his own eight years ago, leaving his family behind. He manages to maintain regular contact with them even in these times, but the alarming situation does not allow him to close his eyes at night. "They do not leave the compound, but they have to go to the market, to buy a little food and necessities," he says, "Fear controls their lives. I keep trying to convince them to join me in Israel, but they are not ready to hear it. They have a lot of property there, that they cannot manage to sell to Muslims, and they are also worried about the life they are expected to make in Israel. But I worry about their safety. Their place is not there, but here, with us. I hope that soon there will not be a single Jew in Yemen."
According to the Yemen Times, “approximately 48 other Jews live in the village of Bayt Harash, just outside Raida city, the capital of the Raida district in Yemen’s Amran governate.” Yahya Yaqoub, a Hebrew teacher and father of four, told the newspaper: "I haven’t cut off my locks, however I hide them underneath my Imamah [Yemeni headscarf] [sic] whenever I go outside,” he said. “If I don’t, people might identify me as a Jew. If that happens, who knows, anything could happen."
Yaqoub teaches heder [private Jewish school], which seven students attend [down from 20 several years ago according to the Yemen Times]. "Legally, Jews are treated as equals by the state and in state institutions such as schools," he said. "But in practice, Jewish children who go to public schools are often forced to learn the Quran and face harassment from teachers, especially those teaching religion, and Islamic culture and similar subjects."
Three of Yaqoub’s children went to study in Israel and the United States, and he remained in Yemen with his wife and 10-year-old son: "I would like to go to Israel and meet up with my sons, but have no money. Indeed, I am holding three houses belonging to family members who left the village, but cannot sell them because their Muslim neighbors claim these houses belong to them. They ignore the documents in my possession, proving that we own the homes."
The social profile of the Yemenite Jews has changed in recent years, following a wave of emigration. Mostly the elderly and a few children with their parents remain in the neighborhood; there were almost no single adults of marriageable age. The last wedding of Jews was celebrated some two years ago, and the newlyweds left the country.
When the Chief Rabbi of Yemen, Yahya Yousef, was asked why he would recommend to the community not to move to Israel, he explained: "In Israel, the girls rebel against their fathers, and we fear for our daughters. I could not accept the fact that my daughter might come to me one day and tell me that she was married to her boyfriend. This is not permissible in our religion."
Most community members are unemployed. In the past many of them were in business making jewelry and goldsmithing, or importing tobacco, spices and textiles. Whoever lives in the fortified compound in Sana’a receives a salary from the government of about 50 dollars per month, and some of them who live in Raida are financially supported by Satmar Hassidim in the United States.
|Dr. Moshe Nachum, president, World Federation of Yemenite Jews|
Dr. Moshe Nachum (79), president of the World Federation of Yemenite Jews, was born near Sana’a and immigrated to Israel during the Second World War. Since then, the care and absorption of Jews from his home country has become his life’s work. "For many years I fought the establishment who, at first, did not want to recognize the Jews of Yemen. I was able to bring many members of the community to immigrate to Israel and I stood at the forefront of the struggle for the children of Yemen. In 1977 I warned that 33,000 Jews were left in Yemen, but the Jewish Agency announced that there was no one."
By 2011 he visited Yemen tens of times: "Even the Jews did not discern that I was Jewish until I told them. But since the revolution I don’t go near there. To fly these days is a one-way ticket."
The fate of the Jews of Yemen occupies the world's media. Rod Nordland of The New York Times wrote, "When Mr. Jacob, 36, came to the souk here [in Raida, Yemen], to meet journalists and take them on a rare visit to his community, he rode a battered motorcycle, his long, curly earlocks flapping and making him readily identifiable as Jewish. When traffic stalled for a moment, a khat [winepress] dealer accosted the visitors’ Yemeni interpreter, Shuaib Almosawa, a journalist.
"What are you doing with this dirty Jew? the dealer said. Why are you friendly with him?"
"He’s a human being, after all," Almosawa replied.
"No, he’s not,” the dealer said. “God has damned him."
"We have no friends," Mr. Jacob said, "so we just try to stay away from everyone as much as we can.”
“There are good people and bad people. We know that there are Houthi people who are understanding and tolerant, and we have not been harmed by any of them,” Mr. Jacob said. “But this cursing us to damnation is distressing and hurtful to us." Despite this, he refuses to shave his payot. "I fear none but God," he said to the American journalist.
Suleiman, Abraham Jacob’s brother, keeps his payot unobtrusive enough to hide. His son Jacob will be celebrating a bar mitzvah soon. He has learned to read the Torah in Hebrew, and his father dreams of celebrating it somewhere else, somewhere safer. "Honestly, we are a little afraid of the Houthi takeover, and don’t know what to do about it," he says.
Dr. Yigal Ben-Shalom, president of the Association for the Fostering of Society and Culture - Yemenite Jewish Heritage, closely follows the situation in the country. "We do not move our finger from the pulse," he says, "There is great concern about the future. The Jews in Yemen have not yet reached a point of desperation, and therefore they have not yet decided that they have nothing to look forward to in Yemen. I hope they're not complacent."
Are they aware of how much danger they are in?
"I'm not sure. These are people who look prominently Jewish, with payot, wearing a galabiya. The young girls are in danger because if they become orphans, according to Yemenite law they must be Islamized."
What really keeps them there?
"They prefer the daily life they know, compared to the unknown that awaits them in Israel. It is true that there is abuse, there are tensions, but these are not new things that started just now. No substantive change has occurred in their status. Overall, the Houthis have not presented the Jews as their enemies, but we know that nothing lasts forever. That could change if Israeli security events occur, or if ISIS takes control of parts of Yemen."
Is there a ban on their leaving?
"To this day, when there was a presidential regime in Yemen, the Jews were protected and were able to leave the country, but they stayed willingly. Now they are unprotected and need to get permission from the government to leave Yemen. The difficulty has increased lately because western countries closed their embassies in Sana'a. The number of outgoing flights was also limited because of the civil war."
The Reuters report notes: "Israel-linked organizations have in the past repeatedly helped whisk Jews out of Yemen, but Israeli government spokespeople declined comment on the matter, citing reluctance to endanger Yemen’s Jews by association with Israel. ‘There are certainly discussions going on over options available regarding the Yemenite Jews,’ said an Israeli official briefed on immigration matters.
‘But these are individuals will have to make their own individual decisions about what to do,’ the official added.”
The Houthis are trying to calm the storm. "Jews are safe, and no harm will come to them," said Abu El-Fadl, the Houthi official responsible for the areas neighboring the Jews’ quarters, who visited the home of Chief Rabbi Yahya Yousef. "The problem of the Houthis is not with the Jews of Yemen but with Israel, which occupies Palestine."
Moshe Yaish Nahari's father, Rabbi Yahya Yaish, remembers that terrible day when his son was murdered as though it were yesterday. "It was the saddest and most difficult day of my life, the day when I lost the reason to live," he told Israel Hayom in 2010. “I had no problem and no argument with my Arab neighbors. The killer did not even live in Raida, but in another city. He did not know my son and had no disagreement with him. The killer admitted in court he gave Moshe an ultimatum: be Islamized or leave Yemen. He told him no - and so he was murdered."
Moshe is buried near Sana'a, in a graveyard used by the Jewish community and the Muslim community, a symbol of coexistence that was there in the past. His father then spoke of his desire to leave Yemen and move to the US or London. Finally, he immigrated to Israel with his wife. They live on the streets.
Yitzhak Nahari (50), brother of Moshe's widow La’uzah, immigrated to Israel 22 years ago and also lives in the streets. "I left a relative in Yemen, my father-in-law, who lives near Sana’a," he says.
What do you hear from him about what is happening there?
"That they live in fear. Before they turn on the lights on in the house, they close the windows and curtains, so that they will not see them. They go out only when they have to, to buy things and get what they need, and rush back. I talk to him on the phone, and pressure him to make aliyah to Israel, but he does not want to."
"You have to understand that the economic situation of the Jews in Yemen is excellent, certainly in relation to their Arab neighbors. Some have bigger houses, and they have accumulated a lot of property. No one will buy it from them; they hate them. If they come here, they will be left with nothing. There are Yemeni Jews who come to visit Israel, and then, when they return home, tell everybody what happens here. I had a relative who immigrated to Israel and then fled back to Yemen."
Do you miss it [Yemen]?
"No, I do not have anything to long for. For many years I wanted to visit Yemen, to go up to the grave of my rabbi, Shalom Shabzi; but after what happened to my brother-in-law, I do not go near there."
Moshe Yaish Nahari's widow La'uzah Yaish Nahari and father Yaeish al-Nahari in Yemenite court over the murder of their beloved Moshe
Israel fears for safety of Yemen's remaining few Jews | Druze-Israeli Deputy Minister Says Yemen Jews Told to Leave or Convert to Islam | Yemen's Last Jews Contemplate Final Departure Following Houthi Takeover | Government in Yemen Tell Jews To Convert To Islam - Or Get Out Of The Country | For Yemen's Few Remaining Jews, Time Has Run Out