Jewish Federations of North America Update on Rescue of Yemen Jews

November 1, 2009 / 14 Cheshvan 5770

One day recently in the village of Monsey, N.Y., a new Jewish immigrant from Yemen stood outside her house, staring in disbelief at the mezuzah affixed to the doorpost. Asked if there was a problem, the immigrant expressed shock that she could freely and openly display this Jewish symbol, something she was forbidden to do in Yemen.

Over the past year, UJC/The Jewish Federations of North America and our domestic and overseas partners including The Jewish Agency for Israel have been conducting a major humanitarian effort to help rescue some of the last remaining Jews of Yemen and resettle them in the United States and in Israel.

Throughout this effort, UJC/Federations have worked with our historic partner in aliyah and klitah, the Jewish Agency, to encourage the remaining Yemenite Jews to make aliyah to Israel – though some preferred to immigrate to the United States as they had close family members here.

Including this woman, 62 Yemenite Jews have come to the United States and an undetermined number are expected to follow.

Her story and those of the other Jews of Yemen underscore the very reasons The Jewish Federations of North America first launched this effort to help this impoverished and threatened community.

There are some 200 Jews remaining scattered throughout Yemen today, the last vestiges of an ancient community, most of which made its way to Israel in two major airlifts nearly 50 years ago.

This latest humanitarian initiative, first reported last spring, has focused on the emigration, resettlement and absorption in Israel and the United States of this ancient Jewish community, which has been increasingly threatened by anti-Jewish violence. Over a year ago, a young rabbi was shot dead by Islamic militants, and the community has reported increasing incidents of stone-throwing, verbal harassment and intimidation.

The U.S. portion of this effort has involved an unusually broad partnership that involves the UJC/Federations; the U.S. State Department[ HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community; UJA/Federation of New York; the social service agency FEGS; the Jewish Federation of Rockland County, N.Y; the New York Legal Assistance Group; the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg and the Rockland County Department of Social Services.

To date, some 65 Federations and HIAS have pledged more than $700,000 to help rescue and resettle those wishing to come to the United States. The UJC/Federations-funded JAFI has brought additional Yemenite Jews to Israel as part of this broad effort.

The U.S. arrivals are being resettled in the village of Monsey, about 30 miles outside New York City. Since Monsey is home to many observant groups, from modern Orthodox to Chasidic, and houses an array of Jewish institutions from schools to businesses as well as an existing group of Yemenite immigrants, it was deemed a good fit for this highly traditional community.

Since their arrival began in July, the immigrants have been provided resettlement services by the coalition involved. Children are being enrolled in well-known New York State-accredited schools affiliated with the Orthodox and Chasidic movements, and will be given culturally appropriate educational opportunities as well. New families are also being provided with food, housing, medical care, child care, mental health services, cultural adjustment counseling, language training, employment training and advice.

Besides initial announcements to the Federations, and a flurry of early press reports, some of which erroneously reported that UJC/Federations were working with Satmar organizations, the groups involved have tried to conduct this initiative quietly, due to concerns by the Yemenites for the safety of their relatives remaining in Yemen, and by U.S. State Department and other officials that wider publicity could endanger the entire effort. A Wall Street Journal story has appeared about the effort, increasing the likelihood of further attention.

Those refugees who have arrived in the United States say they lived in fear in Yemen. The men said they hid their payot (sidecurls) and yarmulkes, the women wore Arab garments, and the community did not maintain public institutions. Some of the men said they never left their prayer books in one location, lest they be damaged or destroyed. None of these Jews had ever built a sukkah, and did for the first time this year.

Please visit this page to read more details of this initiative. UJC/Federations will continue to provide updates about this effort as well.

For further information contact:
Michael Jankelowitz,
Liaison to the Foreign Press, Jewish Agency for Israel
Mobile: +972-52-6130220;
Voice-mail: +972-2-620-2780



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01 Nov 2009 / 14 Heshvan 5770 0