Monday, April 13, 2015

Yemen Jews: 'we never felt welcome'

 Eight Jewish families remain in Amram province, in northern Yemen. Ten Jewish families live in a guarded compound in the capital Sana'a. But they cannot, or will not, leave.

Photo: Nadia al-Sakkaf, the Media Line

In the run-up to Passover,   International Business News wrote:

As Yemen's few remaining Jews proceed with Passover customs this week – preparing to slaughter a lamb for a feast, buying new clothes – a looming fear hangs over them. Their numbers are rapidly dwindling, and for the 70 Jews estimated to remain in Yemen, Passover preparations have been particularly rough this year.

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This article, from the Media Line, fleshes out the problems of isolation and poverty among the remaining Jews:

[Sana’a, Yemen] Yahya Yaqoub swallows in fear every time he comes across the Houthi slogan –“Damnation to the Jews” — which has been plastered throughout northern Yemen since gunmen belonging to theShiite group took over the Northern areas of Yemen including the capital in last September.Yaqoub is the last Hebrew teacher in the only Jewish school in Raidah-Amran, around 33 miles northwest Sana’a, where Yemen’s final remaining Jewish community lives in isolation in the new-market area of the district.

The current political and security instability in the country following the closure of foreign embassies and diplomatic missions in Sana’a has added to the Jewish community’s concern that if the Houthis decide to strike — and with the absence of a state — there is no refuge. Many Jewish men and boys hide their “payot” or side locks, under a cap like those worn by Yemeni men in order not to be noticed and picked on. Hebrew teacher Yaqoub, who runs the only Jewish school from a room in his house where he lives with his wife and one of his four children, does this as well. He used to have tens of students, butnow seven boys and ten girls are his only pupils.

“We never really felt welcome in our own country in recent history, but to be haunted by a cursing threat wherever you go and knowing that the men behind it are serious, is too much,” he explained to The Media Line as his eyes wearily searched around the street, as if looking for answers.

The teacher was originally a blacksmith who “made lots of money,” he says, because of his skill. He used to have a shop where he worked with his son, Ismail, but claims that the Muslims stole his money, leaving him to seek charitable assistance from philanthropists and to teach Jewish children for token fees.

“I am owner of at least three houses but every time I try to sell them the buyers try to cheat me off the price since I am a minority. I managed to send three of my children to Israel and the US and I don’t want them to come back.Now I live with my youngest son, Yaqoub, who is 13 years old,” he said.

Today, there are only eight Yemeni Jewish families left in Amran, with a total of forty members mostly children, women and elderly. The youth have left the country through various opportunities seeking a better life elsewhere: mostly in Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom.

There is also a Jewish presence in Sana’a comprised of no more than ten families who used to live in Sa’ada, in the north of Yemen, before they were moved and placed in a residential compound near the US Embassy. The Sa’ada community has been threatened by the Shiite Houthis who demanded that they convert to Islam, leave or die. For their safety, upon the rise of the Shiite Houthi movement in Sa’ada, former president Saleh reallocated all the Jewish families living there into a closed protected residential compound in the capital Sana’a. Today, there are only 46 Yemeni Jews living in the compound.

Jews in Raidah were less fortunate and the community dissipated in 2008 after the murder of one of its members.

Rabbi Yousif Habib, in his late thirties, left his home in Sa’ada in 2007 to come and live with the rest of the fleeing Jews. “I had to shave off my side locks. I feel sad about it, because it is a part of my culture and religion, but I had to do it to avoid harassment,” he said sadly. Yousif said that no one comes back. If Yemeni Jews leave they will not come back until and unless Yemen becomes a better country and this seems far away.

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