"They care about Palestinians more than about the Jews"
by Gad Nahshon
"They care more about the Palestinians than about the Jews," Ovadia Ben-Shalom said with anger, who is the founding father-president of the 'Association for Society and culture' whose goal is to promote the preservation of the Jewish Yemenite culture and heritage in Israel. Ben-Shalom established this organization in 1970. He dedicated his life to the success of this ethnic-cultural organization. This is his life enterprise. We must note that in any country a person such as Ben-Shalom whose headquarters is located in 11 Haatsmaut Sq., Netania, Israel (Tel: 011-972-9-833-1325) would have been considered as a national celebrity to win Israel's prize.
But today, Ben-Shalom has to fight for the future survival of his organization. Why? Because he needs any financial support from the state and from abroad. It is not easy to finance a non-profit organization in Israel. One must understand that Ben-Shalom suffers from the new political anarchy in Israel. He always has been supported by the government. They knew about his contribution to our culture, our ethnicity.
Ben-Shalom developed his unique formula of ethnicity. It is a 'constructive ethnicity,' it is not a negative type of ethnicity whose goal is to bring a brother's war inside the Israeli society. Ben-Shalom promotes unity. You do not have to be a Yemenite in order to love the Yemenite culture. Yemenite Israelis have contributed non-stop to the success of Israel and its culture. Furthermore, Ben-Shalom's organization was a trail-blazer to other ethnic groups in Israel. They copy his model, copy his activities, his concepts of education and research as well: "It is a hard time for me. I do not sleep well at night. I have to fight in order to achieve the financial support from the government which I am entitled by the law." This is an emergency budget.
Ben-Shalom usually worked with a yearly budget of 3 million shekels. Now he must get his first oxygen of 500,000 shekels. He can not figure out why the government does not respond to his demand. He has to cry out. He does not like to fight. This is not his style. His organization is a non-partisan, a non-political one. Today he feels pressure to be a militant: "There is a strong anger inside the Israeli Yemenite community in Israel because of this terrible attitude of the government officials. The blood is boiling. It is not easy for me. I was always a balanced person. Now I feel like other Yemenite Israelis, that I must protest and fight openly," said Ben-Shalom,, a pragmatic person who has been a dynamo of cultural and ethnic activities.
He also explained to me why the Yemenites in Israel are very sensitive: "There is still a feeling of anger inside this community because of the Yemenite children kidnapping in 1949-1951 affair. These children were taken illegally from Yemenite families and they disappeared. Many were probably adopted by Ashkenazi families. The whole story should be made public in the near future by the governmental 'Kidmi Commission.' Indeed, this is a shocking story. The truth must be exposed. You understand that any wrong behavior by the Israeli government can be concluded by us as new evidence of some kind of discrimination against our community."
Ben-Shalom is not a militant-radical leader. He is looking for compromise and for support from the many friends and admirers of his unique lively organization. He keeps calling on the supporters in the U.S. to come forward and donate to his enterprise in any way. It is a hard time for this organization. Any anyone who is willing to learn about the various activities of this organization will figure out why Ben-Shalom deserves any support from you.
Of course many people in Israel help him to achieve the support which he deserves among them, for example, the famous leader and scholar, Prof. Abner Shacky, who served as Israel's Minister of Religion. This leader understand's that Israel should not ignore its culture and its ethnicity. Recently the 'Association' organized a special conference about the Hebrew language in Jerusalem with many noted scholars such as Prof. Ilan Eldar, Dr. Uri Melamed, and Abshalom Ratsabi. The 'Association' has many programs of adult education. The 'Association' operates many Yemenite nights or Yemenite weekend retreats. It has an institute of research, a Yemenite Museum, and even a publishing house.
It runs projects of oral history. It sponsors projects of documentation. Recently it celebrated the famous Yemenite massive aliyah to Israel called 'Magic Carpet' or 'On the Eagle's Wings.'
One can learn about this Yemenite celebration from its official publication 'Tehuda' (editor: Prof. Avshalom Mizrahi). The 'Association' had a special event: The pilots who did the flights from Aden to Israel, the ones who participated in the magic carpet came to Israel to reunite with those Yemenites who were rescued in 1949 and flew to safety in Israel. It is a special operation, before 'Operation Moses.'
These pilots were heroes. A special ceremony took place at the President of Israel's residence. Among the guests of this reunion were: the pilot Stanley Epstein, and Captain Ben Drew, who was the pilot of the east Yemenite 'exodus' from Yemen in 1959. Since then only approximately 2,000 Jews were left in Yemen. But today the number is very small. Stanley Epstein once said that the title of this historic magic carpet should be defined as: "Operation of nine hours by which we transfer people from a place with no hope to a place with hope."
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