Sunday, July 31, 2005

A long way from Aden

The Jerusalem Post of 29 July reported that 40 Jewish women, all in their seventies, recently took part in a school reunion in Tel Aviv. The school was the Convent school in Aden, where most of the girls were Jewish. The article, by Rimonah Traub, gives a rare and useful insight into this little-known community. Here are a few (edited) extracts:

The school the women had attended was the Convent School in Aden, then a British Crown colony on the South West tip of the Arabian peninsula.The Convent school, where most of the girls were Jewish, provided one of the only opportunities for Jewish female education. The Jewish girls belonged to a tight-knit community of 8,000. The community had existed for 3,000 years. Life for the girls revolved around the five streets of the Jewish quarter. The homes stood back to back without courtyards or gardens separating them. Much of the quarter's social life took place on the rooftops of the buildings.

The British took advantage of the the higher literacy rate among the Jews and placed them in positions of middle management, thus establishing a middle class that supported the Jewish shopkeepers and merchants. Members of the community supported one another and offered refuge and aid to the Jews arriving from Yemen en route to Israel.

In 1947, the life of the Jews of Aden was shattered. Three days after the UN vote on the partition of Palestine, the Arabs ran riot among their Jewish neighbours, murdering 82 Jews and wounding many more. Four synagogues and both the Jewish schools were burnt down. More than 100 businesses were looted.

Rachel Surkis managed to escape with her family during that night of horror. Scrambling over the roof of their home they found refuge with their Persian neighbour for three days, until the British army finally intervened. Nothing was left of the Surkis home. It had been razed to the ground.

Following the 1947 pogrom, the Jews began to leave Aden, making their way to Israel and England. Departure was difficult, as the Jews were unable to dispose of their property. The local Arabs contended that the property had been appropriated through the exploitation of the Muslim population and agitated against the purchase of Jewish property by the Muslims.

After the Six Day War in Israel, the Jews of Aden came under attack once more. This last attack, coupled with the withdrawal of the British from the protectorate, prompted the last of the Jews to leave Aden. With their departure, a long and rich chapter in Jewish history was completely closed.

Read article in full.


Anonymous said...

This is an extremely useful and interesting article written by a wonderfully talented writer. I am really looking forward to the next article written by Mrs Traub. Well done!

talhandaq said...

I attended the convent school in steamer point with my sister between 1952 qnd 1955.Your note brought back memories. Mother Superior was a 'dragon'. Parades in the courtyard ( boys only )and all lessons learnt by rote! Even played in a band ( on a stage in the courtyard?) Left for the UK in 1955 and have never been back ( before I would have been sent to the 'boys school' at 11)
Kid regards

BADWOLF said...

In 1961 I was as far as I know the only Jewish servtceman in Aden. I met the Headmaster of the Jewish School a Mr. marks who introduced me to a number of families. I became friendly with two families one named Simon the other named Cohen The Simon family had a daughter called Carmela and the Cohen family had a daughter named Millie(y). I was posted away after a year and never saw or heard of either again. I have tried in vain to find out what happened to them but have had no success. I know that somE members of the community were evacuated at the time of the Six Day War (approx. 132)as far as I can ascertain.

Does anybody out there know the answer to my question and help me lay to rest this ghost from my past.

bataween said...

Hello Badwolf
I am making enquiries on your behalf. Can you leave me your email address at if I have any news?