Sasa is the eldest child of this fatherless family: Moshe al-Nahari was murdered in December. (Amira al-Sharif)
The Jews of the north of Yemen are in a Catch-22. They cannot escape harassment unless they sell their houses. Although their lives are basically tranquil they suffer institutional discrimination and special taxes. This Media Line report, charging that the Jews enjoy neither equality nor citizenship, comes from the Yemen Times (with thanks B.):
"It seems too much for a rural kid to comprehend all that is going on around him. His eyes – from behind spectacles – reveal internal agony for the loss of his father and the promise of harder times, as he is the eldest boy of the family.
"Sasa is subjected to harassment by Muslim kids. He wishes he could move to Sana’a if his family could sell their house in the village, but this has proven extremely difficult to do.
"Mahmoud Taha, journalist and specialist in Jewish current affairs, says that none of the Muslim neighbors are willing to buy the houses of the Jews, especially after the order of Yemen’s president, ‘Ali ‘Abdullah ‘Salih, that all Jews must move to Sana’a.
"After the death of Sasa’s father, three of his sisters, 14, 13 and 11, immigrated to Israel, where they joined their aunts.
“We are in contact with them,” Sasa says. “They ask us to join them, but we don’t want to, and we can’t.”
About 65 Jews live now in one of most luxurious housing compounds in the capital after they were displaced by the Shi’ite rebels in the north in 2007. They were threatened with death if they did not leave their homes in the A-Salim district of the northern governorate of Sa’ada.
They moved to Sana’a leaving behind many of their belongings including their books of history and priceless Torah scrolls. The government houses them in Tourist City, where they receive monthly stipends of $25 per person.
The Tourist City rabbi, Yihya Yousuf, tells The Media Line that they have become used to city living and they are enjoying their stay despite the shortage of income.
“We appreciate the direct support of the president of our country,” Yousuf says diplomatically. “We look forward to his generous compensation for the losses we incurred as a result of our displacement from A-Salim.”
Although Yihya, 30, wears a necktie to reflect his urbanized character, he still looks like a rural man with a traditional scarf around his shoulders. Yihya has been to the U.S. twice, first to New York where he studied Hebrew in 1994. He spent two years there, but his attempts to stay failed.
“I love Yemen,” he says. “I missed my home country. I came back in 1996 and got married.”
Yihya has five children who study in a public school with Muslim children.
“They study all courses except the Muslim’s Holy Book “the Quran” and Islamic culture; we teach them Hebrew and Judaism at home,” says Yihya.
The rabbi says his community in Sana’a practises religious rituals in total peace and serenity.
“We don’t have a special building for synagogue, but we use my apartment,” he says. “We use Hebrew in our prayers. We prepare kosher [meals] on Friday to free ourselves for worship on Saturday.”
The Jews across Yemen do not work on Saturdays, nor do they receive phone calls or visitors.
Yihya’s neighbor, Suleiman Mousa, in his 50s, says they live an ordinary life.
“I wake up in the morning and recite my prayers. Then I spend the morning at home teaching kids, do some craft jobs or work watering the garden of the compound. I spend the afternoon chewing qat [the narcotic stimulant of green leaves chewed by Yemenis at large] with family or friends. I stay home in the evening for prayers and home duties,” he says.
Both Yihya and Mousa relate that their women exchange visits with Muslim women and attend weddings of friends.
“We have no problem with that,” Yihya says.
The integration of Yemeni Jews into general society has been an issue of debate. Although the Yemeni constitution guarantees equal citizenship for all Yemenis, the Jews do not enjoy either equality nor citizenship. None of the Jews are employed in the public service, or work in government agencies. They have practised the same professions for centuries, such as drafting, tanning, blacksmithing, carpentry, interior decorative design, and other crafts.
Jabri Ibrahim, director of religious guidance of Sana’a municipality, said at the seminar held on April 23, that the Jewish community was part of Yemeni society and belonged to the soil of Yemen.
“We will not let them down whatever happens,” said the Yemeni official. “Islam calls for co-existence and peace.”
‘Adil A-Sharjabi, professor of sociology at Sana’a University, warns of exploiting the Yemeni Jews’ issues by some political parties including the ruling party in order to achieve some political gains. A-Sharjabi requested the state to eliminate the discriminatory taxes imposed on the Yemeni Jews.
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