19 Yemeni Jews Arrive in Israel, Ending Monthslong Secret Rescue Operation

A final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrived in Israel on Sunday. (PHOTO CREDIT: Arielle Di-Porto/The Jewish Agency for Israel)
A final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrived in Israel on Sunday. (PHOTO CREDIT: Arielle Di-Porto/The Jewish Agency for Israel)

They landed in Israel late at night — a man in a dark suit and traditional headdress, wheeling a suitcase; a mother, veiled, in a long black robe and holding a sleeping toddler; and a rabbi carrying a Torah scroll believed to be more than 500 years old.

They were among a final group of 19 Yemeni Jews who were spirited out of their war-torn country in recent days, the Jewish Agency announced on Monday, bringing a monthslong clandestine rescue operation to a close.

Photographs taken at Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv by a representative of the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental body that deals with Jewish immigration, documented the arrival late Sunday of the last of the Yemeni Jews who wanted to go to Israel.

They are remnants of an ancient and once-vibrant group that became increasingly imperiled by violence and anti-Semitism as Yemen descended into civil war.

“From Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 until the present day, the Jewish Agency has helped bring Yemenite Jewry home to Israel,” Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident who is the chairman of the agency, said in a statement. He was referring to the airlifts of 1949 and 1950 that brought nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel soon after the country was established.

“This chapter in the history of one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities is coming to an end,” Mr. Sharansky added, “but Yemenite Jewry’s unique, 2,000-year-old contribution to the Jewish people will continue in the state of Israel.”

Roughly 50 Jews chose to remain in Yemen, including about 40 who live in a closed compound in the country’s capital, Sana, where they are protected by the Yemeni authorities, according to the Jewish Agency.

The latest immigrants included a group of 14 from the northern Yemeni town of Raida, including the local rabbi, and a family of five from Sana.

Exactly how they reached Israel, which has no diplomatic relations with Yemen, largely remains a mystery. Two countries that long facilitated Jewish emigration from Yemen, the United States and Britain, closed their embassies in Sana last year, as did many other Western countries.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Isabel Kershner