Saturday, October 27, 2012

'We already feel more secure': Yemenites in Israel

Yizyeh Zidani (32), Eli (48) and Hodaya Yatom (25), Shoshanna (28), Moshe (21) and Hodaya Zidani (22); arriving from Yemen.

The last of the Yemeni Jews are leaving for Israel: the absorption centre in Beersheva is full. The Zindani  family had more reason than most to flee the country, after Aharon Zindani was murdered in May 2012. Haaretz interviewed his family as they arrived in Israel at the beginning of October:

Shalom, what have you brought with you?

Moshe: In these boxes we brought a special oven of the Yemenites, a taboun oven; stools that you sit on while preparing khat and then also while chewing it; and blankets from Yemen.

It looks as though you are immigrating to Israel.

Moshe: Correct, we came from Sana’a.

You have excellent Hebrew for a new immigrant.

Because there was already a period when we lived in Israel; in 2000, I also learned how to be a butcher here. I am a ritual slaughterer in Sana’a: sheep, calves, everything.

But you didn’t stay here.

After a year I returned to Yemen with my brothers. But my sisters, Shoshanna and Hodaya, live here. They came to the airport with their husbands.

Why didn’t you stay?

Yihyeh: At that time they still had it good there, so they went back. But not afterward. The whole mess with Al-Qaida started. That was the uncle’s fate.

Moshe: Things are much better here. My father was murdered not long ago.

My condolences. Was your father the one who was murdered in the Sana’a market in May?

Yes. We lived in Sana’a for a few years. My father would go to the market and wander around freely. He knew the sellers and he knew Arabs there, and suddenly an Arab came up to him and stabbed him.

Was it someone he knew?

I don’t know who it was.

Do you know why he was murdered?

Because he is a Jew, and Jews are hated.

Do you have more family in Yemen?

Yes. My brothers are still there, and also my cousin. We hope to bring them to Israel, too.

Where is your mother?

My mother lives here, in Be’er Sheva.

Shoshanna: I immigrated 13 years ago, after I met Yihyeh and we were married.

Yihyeh: I immigrated in 1993. I came to Israel, did army service and then went to Yemen, where I met my wife and asked her parents for her hand.

Moshe: We weren’t living in Sana’a then. We lived in northern Yemen. We only moved to Sana’a a few years ago.

Why did you move to Sana’a?

Yihyeh: They moved after all that Al-Qaida chaos started in 2001. They were harassed. They got letters, and people told them to leave before something bad happened. Fortunately for them, the president of Yemen intervened and helped. He smuggled them to Sana’a and sent aid.

Was the situation in Sana’a better?

The situation for Jews in Sana’a was better a few years ago. But two years ago, when I visited there, it was already pretty scary. Right now, things are bad everywhere there. I am not just talking about the Jews. They are persecuting all the foreigners − Germans, Americans. At least now they are allowing the Jews to leave. They know where we are going and the authorities want us to leave. Fifteen years ago, it was very hard to get out.

Moshe: There are not many Jews in Yemen now. But things are tough for the Jews, for the Arabs and for the government, too. It’s hard to cope with the extremists.

Where are you going now?

Shoshanna: They are going to an absorption center in Be’er Sheva. They have an apartment there, provided by the Jewish Agency − like all new immigrants receive − until they get settled. With God’s help we will find them an apartment in Rehovot, close to us. The main thing is that we will be celebrating the holiday together.

Eli: All the families will be there. True-blue Yemenites, with genuine Yemenite food. It’ll be fun. You should come.

Have a happy holiday. I hope everything works out for you in Israel.

Moshe: We already feel more secure.

Yihyeh: I only hope his brothers get here. We have a few problems here, too, but we are coping, for good and for ill. At least everyone is a Jew.
Shoshanna: And maybe when they come, we will go on “The Race to the Million” and win apartments [laughs].

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