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Israeli history photo of the week: Yemenite Jews

June 7, 2012 17:15

A Library of Congress collection of photographs that document Israel before the creation of the state.

Yemenite family

Yemenite family. (photo credit:American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept)

The Library of Congress has recently digitalized a collection of over 10,000 photographs, taken by the "American Colony" in Jerusalem, a group of Christian Utopians who lived in Jerusalem between 1881 and the 1940s. The photographers returned to the US, and bequeathed their massive collection to the Library of Congress in 1978. The collection includes Winston Churchill's visit to Jerusalem, Jewish expulsions from the Old City during Arab riots, and the building of Tel Aviv.

The archives of photos taken by  American Colony is filled dozens of pictures of Yemenite Jews, some dating back more than 100 years.  The photographers of the American Colony clearly enjoyed taking their portraits.

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We recently discovered why.

The American Colony was a group of Utopian American Christians who moved to the Holy Land in 1881.  The leader of the group, Horatio Spafford, believed that "the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem was a sign of the imminent second coming of Jesus," according to the Library of Congress curator of a recent exhibit.

"In May 1882," the Library of Congress exhibit reported, "the Spaffords met a group of impoverished Yemenite Jews recently arrived in Jerusalem. The Yemenites had come from their homes in southern Arabia because they believed that the time was right after thousands of years to return to the land that had been Israel. Impressed by their sincerity and claim to be descendants of Gad, a founder of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Spaffords housed and fed them until they could establish themselves in Jerusalem. In appreciation the Gadites bestowed a blessing on the Spaffords, which was recorded in [the family] Bible."

More photos can be viewed at

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