Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ofra Haza: Yemeni desert to global stardom

Ofra Haza: Yemeni desert to global stardom

Here's a lovely sound to play you into the New Year - the gorgeous voice of Ofra Haza. The BBC has broadcast this refreshingly unpoliticised radio programme, to mark the 10th anniversary of her tragically premature death.
From the programme blurb:
"Ofra Haza, dubbed 'The Israeli Madonna', rose from her poor roots in the Yemenite community to global recognition.
"The music writer and critic Pete Paphides first heard the voice of Ofra Haza on the Eurovision Song Contest in 1983. It was an extraordinary voice and belonged to a woman with extraordinary talent and presence. Her life and career were tragically cut short when she died of an AIDS-related disease. Here, Pete talks to her life-long manager and father figure Bezalel Aloni and musicians who worked with her - Ben Mandelson, Yair Nitzani, Ishar Ashdoth, Roger Armstrong, and producer Wally Brill.
"It's ten years since the death of Israel's most well-loved pop star Ofra Haza (Feb 2000). Until succumbing to AIDS-related complications, Haza enjoyed an iconic status in her own country. Though described as 'the Israeli Madonna', her importance exceeded even those comparisons. Having grown up the youngest of nine children in the deprived Hatikva Quarter of Tel Aviv, she became a teen pop sensation in her own country. Haza's international break came in 1983 when she represented Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest with Hi (sic)- a song whose chorus, 'Israel is alive' took it within a whisker of overall victory.
"Her breakthrough album, recorded in 1985, was Yemenite Songs - a piercingly beautiful collection of traditional songs from her own upbringing, gently updated, whilst at the same time retaining key aspects of the old instrumentation (tea trays, petrol cans). As well as cementing her status in her own country, Yemenite Songs was a word-of-mouth sensation across Europe. The a cappella intro of Im Nin Alu was sampled by Coldcut, which in turn prompted the song to become a British hit."
You can listen to the programme on BBC i-player for the next few days.
Enjoy - and a Happy New Year 2011 to all Point of No Return readers.
Showing posts with label Yemenite IsraelisShow all posts


Yemenite author wins literary prize

A prestigious literary prize has been awarded to the Yemenite Israeli author Ayelet Tsabari. While Tsabari is to be applauded for trying to change the Eurocentric character of Israeli history, her work should not be seen (as hailed by Sigal Samuel in the Forward),  as a victory for 'Arab Jews': most Jews from Arab countries would reject the expression.

Ayelet Tsabari, author of The Best Place on Earth: Stories, has been named the winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. The $100,000 prize, which is one of the most generous literary awards, alternates between fiction and non-fiction yearly (last year’s nonfiction winner was Matti Friedman for his book The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible). Kenneth Bonert, author of The Lion Seeker: A Novel, was named this year’s runner-up and will be awarded $25,000.

In Tsabari’s debut story collection, she explores Israeli history through characters of Mizrahi background—Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent—who are at the crossroads of nationalities, religions, and communities.

“I grew up not seeing myself and my family in literature, so writing The Best Place on Earth was a way to create the characters that were missing from my childhood stories,” Tsabari said in a statement. “By portraying characters of Mizrahi background I was hoping to complicate readers’ perceptions of Israel and Jewishness, and to expand and broaden their ideas of what a Jewish story and Jewish experience can be.”

Read article in full 

The Forward article

Times of Israel 


The Adenite couple behind the Esther cinema

 The Esther cinema, now a boutique hotel on Dizengoff Circle in Tel Aviv

What does a boutique hotel built in Bauhaus style in central Tel Aviv have to do with the old British protectorate of Aden?

The link between the two is a remarkable couple, Esther and Moses Nathaniel. Both were born in Aden, at the tip of Yemen, when the port was an outpost of the British empire. They packed their bags in 1924 and arrived in the burgeoning city of Tel Aviv. They built the Dizengoff cinema, as it was originally known, in 1930.  It was designed by the Ukraine-born architect Yehuda Magidovich and renamed the Esther Cinema in 1931.

The marriage of Esther and Moses was a love match opposed by their families. Moses was from a poor family, self-taught. But he became an independent, successful businessman and the managing director of a commercial giant, 'Menachem Moshe'.

The company brought him into contact with Esther's family. Esther was born to an affluent and influential Adenite family whose members were leaders of the community for 150 years. According to an explanation in the hotel foyer, "Esther was the senior grandchild who knew how to take privileges unheard of in her generation and use them to her advantage." She studied in a missionary school, invited private tutors to teach her and opened bank accounts in Paris and Tel Aviv.

Esther and Moses met at the company offices and held a secret love affair for six years. Before they moved to Israel as a married couple, their courtship was conducted through coded love letters and hasty meetings.

When the couple died, the Esther cinema passed to their grandson, Dani Goldsmith. It was converted into an hotel, but the main staircase and foyer recall its past purpose and display a massive film projector and old film canisters. Guests can see classic film clips projected in the reception area.


Meet the Etrog Man from Yemen

 Meet Etrog Man - the 72-year old Yemenite Jew who has made a speciality out of marketing the magical properties of this lemon-like 'vegetable', in great demand for the Jewish festival of Succot. Uzi-Eli was suckled by a she-goat in Yemen. When the goat was killed to provide meat for his family, then fleeing for Aden and Israel in 1949, Uzi-Eli never got over his loss. Wonderful article by Judy Maltz in Haaretz.
Uzi-Eli, the Etrog Man (photo: Emil Salman)

They call him the Etrog Man – and for good reason.

Uzi-Eli, as he is otherwise known, is the founder and owner of a one-of-a-kind shop in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market that sells all things etrog, the citron fruit used in religious rituals during the Jewish festival of Sukkot.

The etrog is not eaten during Sukkot, but rather, it serves as one of the four plant species shaken to fulfill the mitzvah associated with this holiday. According to Jewish legend, it’s meant to symbolize the heart, and in its bumpy-skinned, lemon-like raw form, it makes an appearance once a year, just before the start of this holiday. But in the bottles, canisters and jars that line the shelves of Uzi-Eli’s tiny shop, it’s a star all year around.

Among the assortment of derivative products here, there’s a spray made from etrog peel that’s meant to cure acne, age spots, mouth sores, baldness and even stuttering in young children. There’s a cream made from crushed etrog seeds and coconut oil that supposedly smooths out wrinkles. There’s a soap made from etrog essence that Uzi-Eli claims is effective in combating dandruff and general itchiness. There’s an ointment made from etrog extract, mint, ginger and cayenne pepper he vows will cure sinus problems, hemorrhoids and chronic pain. There’s an etrog drink sold in frozen packages that supposedly works wonders on morning sickness in pregnant woman (“If a woman drinks this during her pregnancy, the baby will also come out smelling as fragrant as the fruit,” he assures a prospective buyer.)

There’s a special version of the popular Yemenite spice hilbe with a bit of etrog extract mixed in that prevents the body, as Uzi-Eli explains, from giving off the strong odor usually associated with this condiment. And finally, there are the shop’s specialty smoothies made from etrog and khat – a plant Yemenites traditionally chew that is known for its stimulating effect – as well as a delicious etrog liqueur.

In the days leading up to Sukkot, Uzi-Eli’s shop is packed. Not only with the usual curiosity seekers interested in sampling his natural remedies, but also, shoppers in the market for an etrog to go with their three-branch lulav (palm frond,) so that they can fulfill the special mitzvah of Sukkot. In order to be considered kosher for the purpose of performing this mitzvah, the etrog must in most cases have an intact pitam, a small extension at the top of the fruit. But those with a damaged pitams are also in demand, says Uzi-Eli, for use as decorations in the hut-like sukkahs where many Jews traditionally eat their meals during the seven-day holiday that starts at sundown on Wednesday.

A robust and jovial 72-year-old with a mop of white curls under his yarmulke, Uzi-Eli and his potions are an unmistakable attraction in the market. Barely has one group of young sight-seers exited the premises when another enters (he gets anywhere from five to 20 groups a day, most of them on organized tours of Jerusalem’s storied marketplace.) In broken English, he regales them with tales of his childhood in Yemen. He tells them about his two grandfathers, who happened to be brothers and were both natural healers. He tells them about how one of them concocted a potion to dry up Uzi-Eli’s mother’s milk when, as a toddler, he refused to wean himself from her breast. He tells them about the goat who replaced his mother as his main provider of food, showing how he would get it to push its leg up in air so that he could crawl under its body. He tells them about how that goat was killed so that the family would have dried meat to eat on their long journey to the port city of Aden, where they eventually boarded a plane to Israel in 1949, and how he never overcame that loss. Then he proceeds to squirt the anti-acne etrog spray on the face of one of his visitors who’s agreed to serve as a guinea pig. Another gets a squirt of it in the mouth, and yet another gets Uzi-Eli’s finger, with a dab of the special sinus ointment on it, inserted straight up his nose.

Read article in full(subscription required)

FRIDAY, APRIL 11, 2014

Yemen positive press not that surprising

 Yemenites in Israel pictured with President Peres (photo: Yemen media)

Over at Elder of Ziyon, that most venerable blogger of bloggers has been marvelling at the fact that two articles in the Yemen press about Yemenite Jews have not attempted to whitewash their sometimes uncomfortable history.

It's not the first time that such sympathetic pieces have appeared. This one  published in June 2013 was remarkable for pulling no punches.

Elder of Ziyon reckons that these latest articles mark a significant change for the better. I would venture to suggest that much of the antisemitism in Yemen originated among the Shi'as of the north, and these are the same warring tribes causing the government trouble today. So there is no incentive for opinion-formers and official mouthpieces to gloss over the historical facts.

Another reason is that human rights and women's groups in Yemen are active on behalf of the 100 or so remaining Jews because they understand that Jewish rights are the thin end of the wedge for society at large.

A further reason could be the large numbers of converts to Islam of Jewish origin.

Finally,  the articles identified by EoZ cannot resist dredging up the usual Israel-bashing allegations, charging that the Zionist state discriminated against its Yemenite Jews, and restating the story of the Yemenite children who were abducted or mysteriously disappeared when their families arrived in Israel. So they are not as positive as all that.

The discrimination and abductions did happen, but they have been exaggerated for political ends. What was once considered acceptable is today termed 'abuse' or 'politically incorrect'.

Yemen Press article (translation by Google)


Israeli song is a hit in Yemen

A song from an Israeli singer with Yemenite roots – but who has never visited the country – has become a surprise hit in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, the Economist reported on Tuesday. Re-published in Haaretz (with thanks: Lily).

Zion Golan's song "Sana’a al-Yemen" is frequently heard blaring from stereos and minibus speakers. "Come with me to Sanaa," Golan sings in Yemeni Arabic. "Sanaa, my home, you'll like it."

But although the lyrics refer to Sana’a as home, Golan has never been there. As an Israeli Jew he is forbidden to travel to Yemen.

Golan is one of more than 300,000 Israelis who trace their roots to Yemen, once home to a significant Jewish community dating back to at least the 2nd century, the Economist writes.

The bulk of Yemen’s Jews left when Israel was founded in 1948, escaping Yemen's instability, poverty and instances of anti-Jewish violence. Today barely a hundred Jews remain.

But cultural ties have survived. Yemeni restaurants in Israel’s Tel Aviv serve traditional cuisine and some markets discreetly stock qat, a leafy mild narcotic popular in Yemen.

Israelis of Yemeni descent such as Golan and the late Ofra Haza, a pop star famed for her fusion of western and eastern sounds, continued to write music that found an audience in Yemen, since it is grounded in the traditions of their ancestral home.

The artists' bootleg albums have long been bought and sold underground (trade with Israel is illegal in Yemen). More recently, the internet has made the songs more accessible. Young Yemenis watch performances on YouTube, sharing them on social networking sites such as Facebook, where they often express astonishment at the resilience of Yemeni culture and lament the Jewish community’s near-extinction in Yemen.

Read article in full 
Israeli song becomes Syrian protest soundtrack


To meet Yemenite Israelis, try IKEA

With thanks: Israel Unseen

Corey Gil-Shuster produces another piece of evidence that not all Israelis come from Russia, Poland and the US. This vox-pop demonstrates that Israelis come from India,  Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Morocco, Iraq ...and Yemen.

Conclusion no.1: Israel is a diverse country and at least 50% do NOT come from Europe.

Conclusion no.2: Yemenite Jews love the Swedish furniture store IKEA.

More videos from Corey Gil-Shuster


Campaigner for lost Yemenite children dies

The maverick 'rabbi' Uzi Meshulam, who demanded in the 1990s that Israel investigate what has come to be known as “the kidnapping of the Yemenite children," died on Friday at the age of 60, Arutz Sheva reports. Israel subsequently held four commissions of inquiry into the scandal. Some children were never accounted for, although the idea of a government conspiracy has been dismissed.

Meshulam was brought to rest on Friday afternoon, before Shabbat, in his hometown in Yehud.

Meshulam had disseminated information which said that between the years of 1948 and 1954, approximately 4,500 children of immigrants of Mizrahi origins disappeared while in the hospital. Their parents who came to visit them were told that their children had died and were buried, raising some suspicion since in many cases the children had been healthy, there were no death certificates, and bodies were not presented. These facts had led many to believe that the children had in fact been kidnapped and sold to be adopted.

Four different commissions of inquiry have been set up in Israel to investigate the allegations regarding the selling of the children over the years, but they concluded that there had been no decisive evidence regarding the fate of the children in some cases, while in others there was no doubt that the children had died.

Meshulam, who had for many years gathered evidence regarding disappearance of the Yemenite children, in 1994 locked himself along with his followers in a home in Yehud. Police forces and snipers surrounded the house, and several weeks later, they stormed it, arresting 11 of Meshulam’s officers and killing one, 19 year-old Shlomo Asulin.

Meshulam’s followers were accused of a number of offenses: conspiracy to commit a crime, obstructing justice, attempted aggravated assault, threats, endangering human life willfully and unlawfully production of weapons. They were sentenced to prison terms of between 15 months and five years. Meshulam himself was convicted of instructing his followers to throw firebombs at police and of obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to eight years, but was acquitted of one of the offenses and the sentence was reduced to six and a half years, out of which he served five after then-President Ezer Weizman deducted seven months from his sentence.


Israel is a safe haven for the Jews fleeing Yemen

 The last Jews of Yemen are leaving -  for Israel. We may better advocate for Israel by telling the story of those Jews from Arab lands and Iran who had nowhere else to go, argues Sarah Levin in theJ Weekly of Southern California: 

Last September I had the privilege of attending an international conference in Jerusalem titled “Justice for Jews from Arab Countries,” which was organized by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the World Jewish Congress.

During my last day in Jerusalem, I walked to the Old City to put a note in the Kotel. As I was leaving, a short woman with a black hijab (head covering) brushed my shoulder. I instantly recognized her from Rachel Stretcher’s photographs, which were featured in the exhibit “The Last Jews of Yemen,”sponsored by JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa).


I approached the woman, whose name is Simcha, and in broken Hebrew she told me that her family had left Yemen’s northern town of Raida in 2009 after her husband, Said, a leader of the Jewish community, received death threats and a grenade was thrown into their courtyard. Said and Simcha had the choice of moving their family to “Tourist City,” a government-protected compound in Yemen’s capital Sana’a, or leaving Yemen altogether. Rather than live as refugees in their own country, Said and Simcha decided to immigrate to Israel.

Simcha told me about the horrible struggles of the Jews remaining in Yemen and how she thought they were all preparing to leave. She knew she made the right choice in moving to Israel, despite the difficult assimilation challenges she was facing.

In late January, news began circulating that the Yemeni government had stopped providing thenecessary subsidies and protection for displaced Jews from Raida living in “Tourist City.” The Yemeni NGO Sawa’a: Organization for Anti-Discrimination, complained on its Facebook page that the displaced Jewish people are unable to return to their homes in Raida, because of the threat of religiously motivated violence against them by Shi’ite Houthis.

Following this news, Israeli and Arab news outlets were flooded with reports that an international effort is under way to bring the remnants of Yemen’s Jewish community to Israel. With fewer than 100 Jews remaining in Yemen, and their status now in danger, it’s fair to assume these reports are correct and that  Yemen may soon be added to the list of Arab countries that once had vibrant Jewish communities that were forced out, or have fled.

Revisionist history of the Middle East and North Africa conveniently excludes the experiences of indigenous Jews, who have had a continuous presence in the Middle East and North Africa for over 3,000 years. The fate of Yemen’s remaining Jews reminds us once again of the important role the State of Israel has played, and continues to play, in providing Jews around the world with a place of refuge when life at home becomes impossible. We are better able to effectively advocate for Israel by telling the almost forgotten story of Jewish communities from Arab countries and Iran who often had nowhere to go but Israel.

Read article in full


Ofra Haza: Yemeni desert to global stardom

Here's a lovely sound to play you into the New Year - the gorgeous voice of Ofra Haza. The BBC has broadcast this refreshingly unpoliticised radio programme, to mark the 10th anniversary of her tragically premature death.
From the programme blurb:
"Ofra Haza, dubbed 'The Israeli Madonna', rose from her poor roots in the Yemenite community to global recognition.
"The music writer and critic Pete Paphides first heard the voice of Ofra Haza on the Eurovision Song Contest in 1983. It was an extraordinary voice and belonged to a woman with extraordinary talent and presence. Her life and career were tragically cut short when she died of an AIDS-related disease. Here, Pete talks to her life-long manager and father figure Bezalel Aloni and musicians who worked with her - Ben Mandelson, Yair Nitzani, Ishar Ashdoth, Roger Armstrong, and producer Wally Brill.
"It's ten years since the death of Israel's most well-loved pop star Ofra Haza (Feb 2000). Until succumbing to AIDS-related complications, Haza enjoyed an iconic status in her own country. Though described as 'the Israeli Madonna', her importance exceeded even those comparisons. Having grown up the youngest of nine children in the deprived Hatikva Quarter of Tel Aviv, she became a teen pop sensation in her own country. Haza's international break came in 1983 when she represented Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest with Hi (sic)- a song whose chorus, 'Israel is alive' took it within a whisker of overall victory.
"Her breakthrough album, recorded in 1985, was Yemenite Songs - a piercingly beautiful collection of traditional songs from her own upbringing, gently updated, whilst at the same time retaining key aspects of the old instrumentation (tea trays, petrol cans). As well as cementing her status in her own country, Yemenite Songs was a word-of-mouth sensation across Europe. The a cappella intro of Im Nin Alu was sampled by Coldcut, which in turn prompted the song to become a British hit."
You can listen to the programme on BBC i-player for the next few days.
Enjoy - and a Happy New Year 2011 to all Point of No Return readers.


The story of the Yemenite bean-seller

The Jerusalem Post has this fascinating insight into the life of Moshe Levi Nahum, who arrived in the land of Israel as a destitute orphan from Yemen: 
"Inside the warren of narrow cobbled streets and old one-story houses that make up Tel Aviv's Kerem Hateimanim, the Yemenite Vineyard, lies Rehov Malan, named for one of the first inhabitants of the area, Moshe Levi Nahum, known by his nickname Mussa el-Ful after one of the activities in his long and active life - selling beans.
"Born in Yemen in 1891, Nahum was a towering figure in the Israeli Yemenite community. A handsome and impressive man, he always dressed in Western style and carried a silver-headed walking stick. He became known as the mukhtar (leader) of the Yemenites who lived in Jaffa and later in the Kerem, and labored for many years to improve their situation. One of his many children from several marriages - 80-year-old teacher Hephzibah Cohen - told me the fascinating story of her father's life. A book about him, Kerem Haya Leyedidi, by Shlomo Tivoni, based on conversations with Mussa el-Ful, tells his story in even greater detail and is also a fascinating account of what life was like for the inhabitants of the Kerem from its beginnings until today.
"He arrived in the country in 1905, an orphan of 14 who left Yemen in the company of two uncles and an older brother. After an adventure-packed journey in which he stowed away on several ships and worked his passage on some of them, he arrived in Eretz Yisrael without a penny in his pocket and landed in the Kerem Hateimanim, officially established in 1904. He was taken under the wing of a kind Yemenite tradesman who made it his business to help new immigrants - and who, years later, became his father-in-law.
"While he was ecstatic to have arrived in the Holy Land, he quickly realized that the inhabitants of the Kerem were all, like himself, desperately poor, and he could only rely on himself for his survival. Those first days and many later ones were spent hunting for a piece of bread. Sometimes he found one thrown out by the "rich people of Tel Aviv" as he called them. Once he even chased after a dog with an old loaf in its mouth and ate that in desperation.
"Not wanting to become a jewelry maker, which was what most Yemenite immigrants did in those days, he supported himself by selling the bean snacks which gave him his nickname. He would sell them to children studying at the Alliance school, trading them for a slice of bread and later for Hebrew lessons. He went on to learn French, English and Yiddish. He tried many different occupations, including construction worker, cobbler and bailiff. He also joined the Hashomer organization set up to defend the Jews against the Arabs and the Turks.
"During World War I, the Turks decided to expel all the Jews living on the coast for fear their presence would benefit the British during the battles that raged for possession of the land. Hundreds were driven north and Nahum was one of them. By this time married to his first wife Esther, the first of his many children was born there and called Yossi Haglili. Yossi's granddaughter Tsilla, a Tel Aviv University film student, also told me what she knew about her great-grandfather."
Read article in full


Yemenites lived in Jerusalem since 1881

Tamar Wisemon of The Jerusalem Post explores the Yemenite community in the Shiloah Valley, below the City of David in Jerusalem. The first Yemenite Jews settled there in the 1880s.
"Only the most determined of drivers will edge through the tight maze of one-way streets to reach this inconspicuous, rundown alley tucked away in the heart of one of the city's oldest and poorest neighborhoods; most people park elsewhere and enter on foot.
"When I first began to work at Ezrat Avot, I didn't pay much attention to the name. I assumed it was simply a Hebrew word that I was not acquainted with. After months of spelling out the street name while giving directions to the senior citizen organization, I realized that even sabras have no idea of what Tarmab is. My curiosity was aroused.
"Last Pessah, during a tour of the former Kfar Hatemanim in the Shiloah valley below the City of David, I finally learned about the origins and history of the name. Tarmab, it turns out, is neither a word nor a name; it is the Hebrew acronym of the Jewish year 1881-82. That year marks the first Yemenite aliya, more than half a century before most of Yemen's Jews were flown to the State of Israel during Operation Flying Carpet.
"In 1881, the Jews of Yemen heard that Jews had begun to return to Jerusalem and took this as a sign of the imminent arrival of the messiah. Their sages had interpreted the biblical verse "Let me climb the palm" (Song of Songs 7:9) as an allusion to the year of redemption, because the numerical value of the Hebrew word "the palm" - 642 - corresponded to the Hebrew year 5642 (1881/82). A few hundred of the poorest members of the community left Sana'a and several nearby villages. After an arduous journey by way of India, Iraq and Egypt to Jaffa, traveling by donkey, foot and boat, depleting all of their savings on the way, they arrived at Jerusalem.
"Although immigration from Yemen to Palestine continued almost without interruption until 1914, with 10 percent of the Yemenite Jews arriving during this period, these "foreign" Jews with their unfamiliar customs were met with distrust by both the established Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities of the Old Yishuv. After some miserable years within the protective walls of the Old City, destitute and scorned by their Ashkenazi neighbors, the Yemenites decided to establish their own community and began moving out to the hills facing the City of David, where they lived in caves, easy prey for attacks.
"Ironically, it was only when the Christian community began to focus its charitable work on this destitute group, that the Jewish establishment came to the support of their brethren. Philanthropists purchased land in the Silwan valley and built the small village of Kfar Hashiloah, popularly known as Kfar Hatemanim (the Yemenite village), in 1884. While the village attracted those who wished to return to the isolated, rural lifestyle they had lived in Yemen, the residents were still vulnerable to attack from nearby Arab villages and many preferred the safety of living close to the established Jewish community."
Read article in full


Yemenites work up a sweat over food article

Two Yemenite Jews in Israel are suing a newspaper which printed a nutritionist's claims that fenugreek in Yemenite cuisine causes them to smell, Ynet News reports. (With thanks: Albert)
Yemenites walk around with a cloud of pungent odor that lets people know they're coming from five feet away. This is also true in winter," wrote the strictly Orthodox Yated Ne'eman newspaper this week. The reason cited by the paper for this "phenomenon" is the frequent use of the fenugreek spice in traditional Yemenite cuisine.
The article, penned by nutritionist Yael Kariv, focused on the recent heat wave as it related to sweat, and the connection between perspiration and diet.

Social activist Haim Ezer and spice merchant Sagiv Mahfud – both of Yemenite heritage - were angered by the article and filed a lawsuit demanding the paper publish an apology and pay them $11,500 compensation.

Read article in full

MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2007

Yemenite rabbi's wife helps Jerusalem poor

Heartening pre-Pesah story about the Yemenite Rabbi's wife who helps the poor of Jerusalem:

JERUSALEM (JTA) — On a quiet, little-known street in one of Jerusalem's poorer neighborhoods, the line on Fridays begins to form as early as 6 a.m. outside the home of Bracha Kapach.

They come from all over Jerusalem, particularly in the weeks before Passover: men down on their luck,elderly women with meager pensions, street kids living from fix to fix, mothers with too many mouths to feed.

Kapach treats them all the same. She hands them challahs or clothing or cash, wishes them a "Shabbat shalom" and sends them on their way.

This is how Kapach, a diminutive Yemenite octogenarian known all over Israel for her good works, has become a lifeline for some of Jerusalem's neediest, delivering hope in the form of food packages and small kindnesses.

Kapach says it's not charity; it's her responsibility. (...)

Born in Yemen's capital city of Sanaa to a prestigious Jewish family, Kapach married her first cousin at age 11 and had her first child at 14. She had two more children before she made aliyah with her husband in 1943.

Kapach's late husband, Rabbi Yosef Kapach, was a scholar and extraordinary person in his own right. The rabbi's research and commentary on Maimonides won him the venerated Israel Prize in 1969. His wife's charitable work won her the prize three decades later, in 1999.

Read article in full


Great future planned for Yemenite town

Long feature in the Jerusalem Post about Rosh Ha'ayin, a town in Israel with a distinctive Yemenite cultural flavour:
"From a transit camp for Yemenite immigrants brought here in Operation On the Wings of Eagles, to a small metropolis a short distance from every major city in the center of the country, Rosh Ha'ayin is on the cusp of flowering into a comfortable and desirable place with a unique cultural flavor.(...)

"On the corner of Shabazi and Wolfson streets in the center of the original neighborhoods stands a barracks erected by the British during the Mandate. In a sign of the importance history has to the Yemenite community, the building has become the Yemenite Jewish Heritage House of Rosh Ha'ayin.
"Naftali Simhi, its chairman, has the swarthy skin common to Yemenites and a startlingly bright smile which he is not shy to unleash on visiting reporters.
"I think everyone one has a little warm part of their soul which is Yemenite and I want to open it and develop it," he said while sitting in his office at the Heritage House. A building engineer by trade, he serves purely on a volunteer basis.
"Simhi is convinced that much of Israeli culture has derived from the traditions that the Yemenite community zealously protected throughout its exile.
"The Yemenite community had the most cohesive tradition of any exiled community. You know the new Madonna song? It opens with a Yemenite tune. You cannot have an Israeli dance without a Yemenite step in it," he said cordially but emphatically.
Read article in full


Troubled Yemeni immigrants go before Knesset

Y-net News reports: Jews who immigrated to Israel in recent years told Knesset members Tuesday that they were "deeply disappointed" with the government ministries' treatment of them and that they regret their decision to make aliyah.

Representatives of the community attended a meeting of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs and presented to the Knesset members the problems they have been facing since arriving in Israel.

According to current data, dozens of Yemen Jews have been brought to the country in recent years, and there are only 50 families who currently live in Yemen.

Read article in full

MONDAY, JUNE 26, 2006

Absorption hardships for Yemenite Jews

Touching story from Y-net News about the hardships facing new immigrants to Israel from Yemen. They are no longer eligible for state-subsidised mortgages, an anomaly that the government can surely rectify without too much difficulty. It has to be said that the numbers affected are minimal: fewer than 300 Jews still live in Yemen. (With thanks: Albert) 

A year after arriving in Israel to be reunited with her son, Lauza Nahari asks to return to Yemen. 'Son, please get me a ticket back to Yemen. This place is bad for me,' she says.

Yechiel Nahari hadn't seen his mother for 12 years. A year and two months ago, his friends from the Border Guard surprised him and brought his mother straight from Yemen to the ceremony marking the end of his basic training. But the originally joyful immigration has turned into a nightmare for the mother, who wanders between homes of distant relatives. It turns out that, unlike new immigrants from Ethiopia, immigrants from Yemen are not entitled to a state-subsidized mortgage.

A year and two months ago, Border Guard policemen surprised cadet Yechiel Nahari, then 19-years-old, by bringing his mother, whom he had not seen for 12 years, to the concluding ceremony of his basic training. Still on the courtyard, Nahari burst into tears as he hugged his mother. "Don't cry, son. Don't let people see a soldier cry," scolded his mother. Yechiel Nahari was taken from his mother 12 years ago in Yemen, at the age of seven, by the Sumter hassidim (Sotmar? Ed) from the United States. After suffering from the strict regime at one of their yeshivot in New York, he wandered the streets until he met Shlomo Grafi, the patron of Yemeni immigrants to Israel in recent years. Grafi helped the boy immigrate to Israel and be accepted to the Border Guard. Grafi promised Nahari that he would do his best to help Nahari's mother come to Israel also. A year ago, he stood by his word and, indeed, brought her to Israel as a surprise for Nahari's military ceremony. Following the ceremony, the mother returned to Yemen and, a few months later, arrived in Israel, this time as a new immigrant.

Today, Nahari feels that he and his mother were abandoned in Israel. "They housed us in an absorption center in Ashdod, but all the immigrants there were Ethiopian or Russian. She doesn't speak the language and she felt lonely and neglected. Since then, she has been wandering from distant relative to distant relative. I serve as a combat officer in the Border Guard and come home only once every two weeks. It's heartbreaking to see my mother homeless."

Added Nahari: "My mother is a very sick woman. In Yemen, they tossed a grenade into her house and she suffers from shrapnel wounds and has trouble walking. She also suffers traumas from her difficult life in Yemen. Every time she sees me, she says: 'Son, please get me a ticket back to Yemen. This place is bad for me.'"

Yesterday, in her cousin's house in Rehovot, in Yemenite peppered with Arabic (they speak Hebrew of Biblical purity - Ed), Lauza Nahari said: "I wander from house to house and cry night and day. They made me a new immigrant, but I'm actually lonely and abandoned. I don't know the language and I have no possessions, not even a bed."

Shlomo Grafi, the man responsible for the Yemeni immigration in the past decade and, specifically, for bringing Lauza Nahari to Israel, appealed several times to the exceptions committee in the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption in order for Lauza to receive government assistance for public housing.

Says Grafi, "In March of 1995, the state decided to stop providing mortgages for apartments such as the ones they gave to Ethiopian immigrants. Recent immigrants (from Yemen) are neither able to leave the absorption centers or to become integrated within them." The spokeswoman from the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption said in response, "In the past, Yemeni immigrants were eligible to receive state-subsidized mortgages but today, pursuant to an order from the Ministry of Finance, only Ethiopian immigrants are eligible for them. The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption appealed to the Ministry of Finance to extend the eligibility also to Yemeni immigrants, but to no avail. The issue has since been appealed again and is awaiting Minister Zeev's response on whether all immigrants from troubled countries, including Yemen, will be eligible for mortgages. In the meantime, if Lauza would like to move to the absorption center in Ashkelon, where two Yemeni families are currently residing, we would be happy to help her."

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More about the last Jews of Yemen here

TUESDAY, MAY 16, 2006

Dancing with a Yemenite accent

Review by Vered Lee in Haaretz of Story of a company, Gila Toledano's new book about the late Yemenite founder of the Inbal Dance company, Sara Levi-Tanai. (With thanks: Lily)

Story of a Company
 is not the first book about Levi-Tanai (Giora Manor's The Choreography of Sara Levi-Tanai preceded it), but it is unique in that it examines Levi-Tanai and her work from the perspective of Mizrahi identity and the approach of Israeli society to the art and culture of the Mizrahim - Jews originating in Arab lands.

Levi-Tanai's childhood memories are tattered and frayed. She never knew her date of birth. She was born in Jerusalem around 1910 or 1911 to parents who came from Yemen in the late 19th century. From the Neveh Zedek neighborhood outside Jaffa, they moved to a refugee camp in Kfar Sava, where the entire family died in an epidemic. "I don't remember how many we were," Levi-Tanai said in 1999, "but the only ones who survived were my father and I."

Levi-Tanai was (also) drawn to theater, but she was turned down in auditions because of her strong Yemenite accent. "I was rejected by both Habimah and Ohel," she told Toledano. "I was very hurt because I sensed that it was only because of my accent." In 1940, she moved to Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh, where, aside from working as a kindergarten teacher, she organized holiday ceremonies and kibbutz events.

Operation Magic Carpet, which brought masses of Yemenite Jews to Israel in the early years of statehood, set her mind awhirl. As a woman who had grown up far from her community and had received a Western education, she was entranced by the culture of the Yemenites and began to explore their special style of dance. Levi-Tanai was not the first to be captivated by Yemenite dance. Rina Nikova, a Russian-born ballerina, established a Yemenite dance company in Tel Aviv in 1933. But while Nikova only gave Yemenite dance a platform, i.e., she organized performances of authentic dances without changing them, Levi-Tanai observed the steps closely and made Yemenite dance hers.(...)
In her book, Toledano follows the progress of Inbal's reception in Israel and abroad. She compares the snobbish criticism of Levi-Tanai's work in Israel, where it was labeled 'folklore,' to the high praise meted out in the world?s leading newspapers. The blindness of the critics who dismissed her work as "preserving Yemenite culture," and failed to see the deeper levels in it, is surprising and hard to accept. Even when Levi-Tanai used the Yemenite step, she turned it into a novelty by doing away with the separation of men and women that was part of traditional Yemenite dance.

"I knew Tolstoy and Shakespeare long before I ever heard the name 'Shalom Shabazi,'"Levi-Tanai told Maariv in 1968, defending herself against the critics [Rabbi Shabazi was a famous Yemenite mystic and poet]. Later in the interview she is even more outspoken: "The aversion to Mizrahi culture you feel in the Israeli street today is connected to the fear of Arabization, the fear of Israel becoming part of the Levant ... I'm not afraid. We are a culture-rich people. This richness flows in my blood. I'm no more worried about turning into an Arab than I am about turning into an American."

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Yemen-born diva dies

Born in 1923 in the city of Damar in Yemen, Shoshana Damari, diva of Israeli popular song and an Israel Prize laureate, has died aged 83.

She came to Israel at the age of two. She began her long musical career as a young child, accompanying her mother, who sang at functions. Damari left her parents' home at age 13 and moved to Tel Aviv, where she met her manager Shlomo Bushmi. The two married three years later.

That same year, 1949, Damari launched a solo musical act at the Li-La-Lo Theater and became a permanent cast member at the theater. One of the numbers written for the theater by poet Natan Alterman and composed by Shlomo Wilenski,Kalaniot (anemones) became her trademark song over the years.

Her alto voice was distinctive because of her Yemenite pronunciation of some Hebrew letters. She was very well known especially in the period before and after the founding of the State of Israel. She is considered by many as the "Queen of Israeli song".
She was also known for her popularity amongst Israeli soldiers, for whom she frequently performed over several decades.


Yemenite dance queen dies

The death of the founder of the Inbal Dance troupe, Sarah Levi-Tanai, who did much to nurture Yemenite culture and pride in Israel, prompts The Guardian to publish this obituary by Lawrence Joffe:
....."(Sarah)Levi-Tanai's life changed dramatically during 1949-50, when Operation Magic Carpet flew some 50,000 Jews from Yemen and Aden to the newly-independent Jewish state. She tracked down musicians, dancers and storytellers from the remotest villages, and they, in turn, taught her the distinctive footsteps, which she likened to "sinking in soft sand". Their pride and enthusiasm re-awoke her Yemenite roots.

"The timing of the troupe's creation was fortuitous: over time, Jewish immigration from Arab lands grew to form nearly half of Israel's population. Inbal's flamboyant costumes and onstage humour and pathos represented a confident oriental contribution to a nation still dominated by its invariably wealthier Ashkenazi founders.

"Levi-Tanai won the Israel Prize for arts and culture in 1973. Inbal gained a permanent theatre and its dancers co-operated with other groups, including local Arabs, Druze and Circassians. Gradually, however, as other Israeli dance troupes emerged, what had seemed avant garde about Inbal came to seem passé.

"Ora Brafman, who in 1995 released Bare Feet, a documentary about Levi-Tanai, admitted that Inbal had been used as a political tool. The company, she wrote, was depicted as the rebirth of a 2,000-year-old nation, and "a symbol of the smooth integration of newcomers, the adjustment of eastern Jews to prevailing western cultural codes".

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