The last Jews of Yemen are leaving - for Israel. We may better advocate for Israel by telling the story of those Jews from Arab lands and Iran who had nowhere else to go, argues Sarah Levin in the J Weekly of Southern California:
Last September I had the privilege of attending an international
conference in Jerusalem titled “Justice for Jews from Arab Countries,”
which was organized by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the
World Jewish Congress.
During my last day in Jerusalem, I walked to the
Old City to put a note in the Kotel. As I was leaving, a short woman
with a black hijab (head covering) brushed my shoulder. I instantly
recognized her from Rachel Stretcher’s photographs, which were featured
in the exhibit “The Last Jews of Yemen,” sponsored by JIMENA (Jews
Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa).
approached the woman, whose name is Simcha, and in broken Hebrew she
told me that her family had left Yemen’s northern town of Raida in 2009
after her husband, Said, a leader of the Jewish community, received
death threats and a grenade was thrown into their courtyard. Said and
Simcha had the choice of moving their family to “Tourist City,” a
government-protected compound in Yemen’s capital Sana’a, or leaving
Yemen altogether. Rather than live as refugees in their own country,
Said and Simcha decided to immigrate to Israel.
Simcha told me about the horrible struggles of the Jews remaining in
Yemen and how she thought they were all preparing to leave. She knew she
made the right choice in moving to Israel, despite the difficult
assimilation challenges she was facing.
In late January, news began circulating that the Yemeni government
had stopped providing the necessary subsidies and protection for
displaced Jews from Raida living in “Tourist City.” The Yemeni NGO
Sawa’a: Organization for Anti-Discrimination, complained on its Facebook
page that the displaced Jewish people are unable to return to their
homes in Raida, because of the threat of religiously motivated violence
against them by Shi’ite Houthis.
Following this news, Israeli and Arab news outlets were flooded with
reports that an international effort is under way to bring the remnants
of Yemen’s Jewish community to Israel. With fewer than 100 Jews
remaining in Yemen, and their status now in danger, it’s fair to assume
these reports are correct and that Yemen may soon be added to the list
of Arab countries that once had vibrant Jewish communities that were
forced out, or have fled.
Revisionist history of the Middle East and North Africa conveniently
excludes the experiences of indigenous Jews, who have had a continuous
presence in the Middle East and North Africa for over 3,000 years. The
fate of Yemen’s remaining Jews reminds us once again of the important
role the State of Israel has played, and continues to play, in providing
Jews around the world with a place of refuge when life at home becomes
impossible. We are better able to effectively advocate for Israel by
telling the almost forgotten story of Jewish communities from Arab
countries and Iran who often had nowhere to go but Israel.
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