The most dramatic moments in Jewish history have once again taken place in Ben Gurion airport minutes ago: 11 Jews from Yemen landed in Israel as part of a Jewish Agency special rescue and aliyah operation. It’s a moment that captures who we are as a people, who we are as the Jewish State, and who we are as the Jewish Agency.
Recent events in Yemen point to a rising virulence in anti-Semitic sentiment. On December 10th 2008, Moshe Yaish-Nahiri, a Hebrew teacher in the local school, father to nine and brother of a local prominent Rabbi, was shot dead near his home in Rida. The perpetrator, a young Muslim fundamentalist, also threatened further violence against the entire Jewish community. In response, the Yemenite government paid to relocate the community to the capital of Sanaa in January to better protect the community. But some Jews were refusing to move, according to a Yemenite news report, fearing it put them at yet greater danger.
Working through several clandestine channels to ensure the safety of both those who chose to come and those who chose to stay, the Jewish Agency launched a special operation to bring Yemenite Jewish community members to Israel. Among the two families and two individuals arriving today is Sayid Ben Israel, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Rida, where anti-Semitism has dramatically – and dangerously – increased over the past few months.
To date, there are 280 Jews still in Yemen: about 230 in the city of Rida and 50 in the capital of Sanaa, who moved to the capital after their homes in Saada came under attack by terrorists associated with Al Qaeda.
A number of weeks ago, Sayid and his family came under attack by anti-Semitic extremists who threw a grenade into the courtyard of his home. Following this incident and additional threats to his life, Sayid moved with his wife and seven children to Saana. Today they are coming home to safety, to Israel. Upon their arrival today, the Ben Israel family will move to live in Beit Shemesh, receiving the full range of support services provided to new immigrants by the Jewish Agency. The remaining new immigrants arriving today will move to the Yeelim Absorption Center in Beer Sheva, where they will also receive assistance from the Jewish Agency integrating into Israeli society.
Rescuing Jews from persecution and ensuring their safety and success in Israel is our core mission. It is also part and parcel of our history: conducting operations to countries in distress and turmoil, no matter how dangerous, to rescue Jews and welcome them home to Israel. As explains Director of the Department for Aliyah and Absorption, Eli Cohen, “The Jewish Agency is working tirelessly to ensure the safety of the Yemenite Jewish community in light of recent events. We will strive to bring as many Jews as possible to Israel from Yemen who are interested in making aliyah as quickly as possible.”
The Jewish Agency – and this special operation in particular – is funded by United Jewish Communities, major Jewish federations in North America, Keren Hayesod, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, foundations and donors from Israel and around the world. Representatives of all three leading organizations were on hand to welcome the new immigrants.