Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Last Jews of Yemen feature in photo exhibit

Two American students spent three months in Yemen documenting the life of the last Jews of Yemen. Now their work is being exhibited in California. Report by JWeekly online (with thanks: Sarah)

Rachael Strecher and her boyfriend Josh Berer in Yemeni dress

Rachael Strecher has captured images of those affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Russian invasion of Georgia and other war-torn areas.

The photojournalist, who once worked for the Associated Press in Jerusalem and the Chicago Tribune, didn’t know where to go next. She sought advice from a mentor.

“He said, ‘Go where most people aren’t willing to go,’ ” said Strecher, a 24-year-old graduate student at the University of Michigan. “Why go somewhere that’s really saturated? I knew Yemen would be a good place to go. We wanted to work on this story.”

Compelled by the chance to document one of the last indigenous Jewish communities of the Middle East, Strecher and her boyfriend, 25-year-old Josh Berer, spent nearly three months at the end of 2009 living in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital.

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Young girls in the community study at home. Most of the Yemenite Jews grow up speaking Arabic, but their first alphabet is always Hebrew. Many of the older generation are only able to read Hebrew letters. photos/rachael strecher

The Jewish pair gradually bonded with the 67 Yemeni Jews living there through photography, writing and their grasp of the Arabic language. (Berer, who had been to Yemen once before, is nearly fluent.)

What resulted was an array of vibrant images and detailed journal entries documenting this ancient Jewish community on the brink of exodus because of anti-Semitism, cultural isolation and civil war.

“The Last Jews of Yemen” is on display at the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael through March 18. In addition, the work of Yehuda Tassa, a Yemenite silver filigree artist in Palo Alto, accompanies the collection.

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