Yemenite immigrants gather for a photo at Rosh Ha’ayin, in the early years of the state..
(photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: GPO FLICKR)
A startup company that specializes in genealogy announced Sunday that it has launched a project to try to reunify families that were split up in the 1950s Yemenite Children Affair.
The affair, which occurred during the early days of the establishment of the State of Israel, saw hundreds of babies and toddlers of families of Mizrahi descent, mostly from Yemen, mysteriously disappear.
Activists allege that the children were “stolen” or taken for adoption by childless Ashkenazi Jews and others, when their biological parents were told the babies had died. But they allegedly were never told about a burial or given more information.
An investigation committee discussed the issue in the ‘90s and locked up the data until 2070, a move actively opposed by MKs and involved families.
The MyHeritage company helps people explore their ancestral roots, trace their family history and build family trees. It is now offering free DNA testing with the aim of reuniting families connected to the affair. Testing is available to people in Israel and abroad, both to those whose children disappeared, and to those who were adopted and are interested in discovering their biological origins. MyHeritage stressed that the tests would be conducted with absolute confidentiality at DNA labs in the US.
In the case of genetic matches, the individuals will be notified and should both sides wish to meet, the company will enable this.
The initiative was launched in collaboration with the Knesset Lobby on Yemenite Children, headed by MK Nurit Koren (Likud), who hailed it as “a historic step in investigating the truth about the affair of the children of Yemen, the East and the Balkans.” Children from Balkan countries as well as Iraq and North Africa have also been said to have been involved in the affair. “The importance of the genetic pool is huge, given the fact that the generation of parents is passing, without knowing what the fate of their children was,” Koren said.
The MyHeritage company clarified that it had no intention or ability to investigate the chain of events which led to the disappearance of the children, and that its purpose was solely family reunification.
“We are operating this project out of a sense of mission, and we see it as a moral and Zionist obligation which will contribute to social reform and healing. By providing the possibility for families to find their loved ones and find out what happened to them, we hope to alleviate the continued suffering of many families for over 60 years,” said MyHeritage CEO Gilad Japhet.Judy Siegel-Itzkovich contributed to this report.