Monday, October 27, 2008

The story of the Yemenite bean-seller

The Jerusalem Post has this fascinating insight into the life of Moshe Levi Nahum, who arrived in the land of Israel as a destitute orphan from Yemen:

"Inside the warren of narrow cobbled streets and old one-story houses that make up Tel Aviv's Kerem Hateimanim, the Yemenite Vineyard, lies Rehov Malan, named for one of the first inhabitants of the area, Moshe Levi Nahum, known by his nickname Mussa el-Ful after one of the activities in his long and active life - selling beans.

"Born in Yemen in 1891, Nahum was a towering figure in the Israeli Yemenite community. A handsome and impressive man, he always dressed in Western style and carried a silver-headed walking stick. He became known as the mukhtar (leader) of the Yemenites who lived in Jaffa and later in the Kerem, and labored for many years to improve their situation. One of his many children from several marriages - 80-year-old teacher Hephzibah Cohen - told me the fascinating story of her father's life. A book about him, Kerem Haya Leyedidi, by Shlomo Tivoni, based on conversations with Mussa el-Ful, tells his story in even greater detail and is also a fascinating account of what life was like for the inhabitants of the Kerem from its beginnings until today.

"He arrived in the country in 1905, an orphan of 14 who left Yemen in the company of two uncles and an older brother. After an adventure-packed journey in which he stowed away on several ships and worked his passage on some of them, he arrived in Eretz Yisrael without a penny in his pocket and landed in the Kerem Hateimanim, officially established in 1904. He was taken under the wing of a kind Yemenite tradesman who made it his business to help new immigrants - and who, years later, became his father-in-law.

"While he was ecstatic to have arrived in the Holy Land, he quickly realized that the inhabitants of the Kerem were all, like himself, desperately poor, and he could only rely on himself for his survival. Those first days and many later ones were spent hunting for a piece of bread. Sometimes he found one thrown out by the "rich people of Tel Aviv" as he called them. Once he even chased after a dog with an old loaf in its mouth and ate that in desperation.

"Not wanting to become a jewelry maker, which was what most Yemenite immigrants did in those days, he supported himself by selling the bean snacks which gave him his nickname. He would sell them to children studying at the Alliance school, trading them for a slice of bread and later for Hebrew lessons. He went on to learn French, English and Yiddish. He tried many different occupations, including construction worker, cobbler and bailiff. He also joined the Hashomer organization set up to defend the Jews against the Arabs and the Turks.

"During World War I, the Turks decided to expel all the Jews living on the coast for fear their presence would benefit the British during the battles that raged for possession of the land. Hundreds were driven north and Nahum was one of them. By this time married to his first wife Esther, the first of his many children was born there and called Yossi Haglili. Yossi's granddaughter Tsilla, a Tel Aviv University film student, also told me what she knew about her great-grandfather."

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