The other day, I heard a fascinating story from an Israeli man who went on a trip to visit Yemen in 2000 (who had no prior connection or roots to the country). He did a trek from the capital Sanaa to a town called Rada’a, a few days’ walk south.
There, they discovered a small Jewish community that was still in existence, numbering something like 100 people. (He’s not sure if it still remains, as a result of the subsequent civil war.)
In his words, it was like he had stepped back in time. The lifestyle of this little community appeared little unchanged as it would have been several hundred years ago; in modes of dress, trades (the men engaged in traditional trades like leather crafts), the little children he saw playing together.
When they learnt he was a Jew from Israel, they welcomed him in with open arms (even slaughtering a little sheep for a special meal with him.)
But one of the most remarkable things was that they were able to communicate. They spoke fluent, biblical Hebrew - as it would have been spoken over two thousand years ago. And he spoke to them in Ivrit - modern Hebrew.
Would a modern-day Italian be able to communicate without difficulty with an ancient Roman or a contemporary Athenian with an ancient Spartan? Or would I easily be able to get to grips with Chaucer’s English? I'm not sure…
But this is exactly what happened here. The man told me the conversation was wonderful to hear, they'd use biblical expressions so it would sound something like, “And behold, it was light.”
But, they understood each other. Perfectly.
The Yemenite builder's son - with a PhD