February 19, 2009
Ten of the fewer than 300 Jews living in Yemen arrive in Israel after being secretly airlifted through arrangements by the Jewish Agency amid threats from Al-Qaeda and other terrorists. The arrivals include Said Ben Yisrael, the leader of the Jewish community in Raydah, where most of Yemen’s remaining Jews live. The murder of Raydah resident Moshe Nahari by an Islamist demanding his conversion in December 2008 brings home the danger.
Jews have lived for at least 2,500 years in Yemen, where they have maintained distinctive customs and traditions. As European Jews increasingly moved to Palestine late in the 19th century and early in the 20th century, Yemeni Jews also began to make aliyah, with significant waves in 1882, 1907 and 1912. Most of Yemen’s Jews, nearly 50,000 in all, were flown to Israel in 1949 and 1950 during Operation Magic Carpet.
As with other Jewish refugees from Arab lands in the Middle East and North Africa, Israel struggled to absorb and integrate the Yemeni population. The new arrivals were sent to transit camps, then housed in harsh development towns in Israel’s periphery. A government operation took about 1,000 Yemeni children from their parents, who were told the children were dead, and were adopted out to Ashkenazi parents. But Yemeni Jews also exert a lasting influence on Israeli culture.
The Jewish Agency and other Jewish organizations facilitate further airlifts of small groups of Jews from the dwindling Yemeni community over the succeeding years.