An Ongoing Jewish Education Program in the Republic of Yemen 1992 - 1993
In the past three years, ICROJOY has entered Yemen eight times. The Jews of Yemen were supplied by ICROJOY with most of all their educational material. Hundreds of prayer books, bibles with medieval commentaries, five scrolls of the Torah, one hundred pairs of tefillin, prayer scrolls, as well as hundreds of small talitot. For the rabbis of the communities, they have received ten volumes of Shulchan Aruch (Jewish laws). In May of 1991, ICROJOY set up an organized educations program for the Jewish students in Yemen.
It is estimated by ICROJOY with a precise census, which was taken in the last three years, that there are approximately 1000-1100 Jews left in Yemen. A heavy percentage of this number being school-age children from the ages of three to fifteen.
The Jews of Yemen are mainly concentrated in three geographical locations in the northern part of Yemen.
- Raida and its vicinities, approximately one and a half hours north of Sanaa
- Saada and its vicinities, six hours north of Sanaa
- Hidan Asham, three and a half hours on a dirt road northeast of Saada, adjacent to the Saudi Arabian border
In May-June 1991, with the consent of the Yemeni goverment and the local sheikh Harash, a school and a mikvah was built in the village of Suqel-Jadid. Thirty chairs and desks were bought for use of the students in the school. Two Jewish teachers were hired: Rabbi Said el-Nahari and Rabbi Salem Sleiman (both teach biblical and Jewish studies). In Suq-el-Jadid, we have approximately 28 students.
Traditionally, and especially in the rural part of northern Yemen, students did not go to school. Instead, they studied at home with their fathers. In January-February 1992, an historical breakthrough occurred. For the first time in the history of education for the Jews of Yemen, a center of education was established in the city of Saada.
At the center of the city, ICROJOY rented a house which included five large rooms, from the famous influential Sheikh Mujali. Students are being driven every morning from the following places: Ghuraz, Asahen, and Bukah. Six teachers were hired: Rabbi Said Zareb, Rabbi Sleiman Sabari (both teach biblical Jewish studies), Idia Zareb, Binyamin Hubani (both teach modern Hebrew), Salem Zindani, and Yosef Atzar (both teach Jewish law and customs). In the Saada school we have approximately fifth students.
These achievements should be measured with the reality of Jewish life in Yemen. Some tend to describe it as a new Holocaust. Some, we learned about the plight of these Jews especially in the small villages of Yemen described the situation like in "The Special Order: Persecution of Jews" from April 18, 1989, a congressional report which stated: "Approximately 4,000 Jews are victims of targeted killings, unlawful arrests, detention without trial, mail censorship, travel constraints and restrictions on emigration." It was signed by Tom Lantos and John Porter. It was clear that Americans must interfere in order to see this reality, collect information and then decide what to do. Thanks to ICROJOY and its creative leadership and "ethnic diplomacy" there was a pressure.
The following is an example of this American pressure which was motivated by this Israeli-Jewish group:
"January 22, 1990
His Excellency Ali Abdullah Salih
President of the Yemen Arab Rep.
Dear Mr. President:
We would like to express our deep appreciation for the gracious and courteous humanitarian assistance that you, Foreign Minister Iryani and your government, have extended to Dr. Hayim Tawil and his colleagues during their two recent visits to the Yemen Arab Republic.
The open distribution of religious articles brought by Dr. Tawil to the Jewish community in Yemen reflects well on our two countries' shared commitment to freedom of religious expression. We hope that this cooperation can continue and can be expanded. Your help and support in enabling this cooperation is deeply appreciated.
In this regard, we wish to enlist your support: to allow Yhia ibn Daoud Suberi to travel to the United States and see family members; to expand student exchanges to include members of the Yemen Arab Republic's Jewish community; and to enable the Jewish community to obtain better medical care and greater access to postal and telephone communications.
We view these as important humanitarian issues and believe we can work together to improve conditions for this community within the context of our improving bilateral relations. Yemen is an important country in the Middle East and for the United States. Your visit is a signal of this and we are confident that our ties can continue to expand to our mutual benefit.
We appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and wish you and members of your delegation a pleasant and successful visit to the United States.
With best wishes, Sincerely yours,
Lee H. Hamilton, Chairman, Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East.
Benjamin A. Gilman, Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East.
Stephen J. Solarz, Chairman, Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Mel Levine, Member of Congress.
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