Only four families remain out of hundreds of Jews who used to live in the town of Raida, 37 miles northwest of the Yemeni capital Sanaa. These four extended families comprise the country’s largest Jewish community, no more than 100 people, according to leader Rabbi Suleiman Yahya, 45.
President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi reportedly is designating Jewish seats at the national dialogue conference tasked with drafting a new constitution.
Last May, a member of the Jewish community shopping in a Sanaa market was murdered for practicing “Jewish witchcraft.” Since the Arab Spring uprisings, according to a Jewish Agency official, Yemen is “in chaos and the Jews are not safe.” Most of the few remaining Jews live in isolation due to increasing aggression from the tribal society around them.
“After my house was robbed earlier this year, I stopped socializing with people. I stopped going to their houses for khat sessions and I don’t receive them at mine,” Yahya said. “While I was not in Raida, someone broke into my house late at night and stole 32 million Yemeni riyals,” worth almost $150,000. According to him, the stolen money was composed of gold and cash, half of which was for the families that have left Yemen.
When asked how they could be accepted in American or Israeli schools given their limited educational background, Yahya said, “They are only accepted in Jewish schools.”
Until recently, Jewish girls did not go to school at all. But Yahya says that has recently changed. He became the example for his community, he said, when he taught his own daughter, the first Jewish girl allowed to study. Now she is a teacher for other Jewish girls, he said.
There is a single synagogue in Raida in which Jews pray on the Sabbath and holidays. As for daily prayers, everyone prays alone because there are no longer enough men to make up a minyan.
Yemeni Jews share many of the same tribal customs as their Muslim neighbors. For instance, Yemeni women — Jewish and Muslim — do not appear before male strangers. Jewish girls as young as 10 are covered in black from head to toe, and their faces are veiled.
Yemeni Jews complain of widespread harassment and discrimination. “Whenever you go, they call you ‘Jew’ or ‘Zionist.’ Sometimes children throw stones at our houses and adults harass our women,” he said, attributing some of that behavior to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“In the past, they would harass Jews when there was a war, and when the war ended the harassment ended with it. But recently, even when there is no war, we are still subjected to different kinds of harassment,” Yahya said, adding, “We have nothing to do with Israeli Zionism.”
According to Yahya, sometimes Jews go to tribal chiefs to complain or seek arbitration.
“We are living in a tribal area where the tribe is stronger than the government. That’s why we sometimes resort to seeking justice from the tribal sheikhs,” he said.
“Living here has become unbearable,” Yahya said, adding that “most of the remaining Jews are only waiting to sell their properties before leaving Yemen for good.”
Five families have left in the past 20 months, he said. He expects that in a few years, there will be no Jews remaining in Yemen.
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Yemen's few Jewish citizens remain marginalised