UJC to pull 110 Jews out of Yemen

Jewish Agency blasts planned evacuation of Jews to Satmar stronghold in New York instead of Israel.

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
March 18, 2009 22:15
2 minute read.
UJC to pull 110 Jews out of Yemen

satmar rabbi 248 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Fearing a spate of killings following threats to the Yemenite Jewish community, the umbrella body of North American Jewish federations will evacuate almost half of Yemen's Jewish community to the US over the next two weeks, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The United Jewish Communities is working with the US State Department, local federations and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to implement the evacuation and help finance the $800,000 expense of absorbing the 110 Yemenite Jews, who represent more than a third of the roughly 280-strong community. "The funding would go toward such resettlement costs as housing, food and social-service programs," the the UJC said in a statement on Tuesday. Jewish Agency officials blasted the move. Jews "should not immigrate to the United States. The place of Jews is in their homeland, the Land of Israel, and like all the Jews of the world, the Jews of Yemen have to make aliya to Israel. That is their destiny," a senior agency official told the Post. The agency is particularly upset because the extraction of the Yemenite Jews comes at the behest of New York's Satmar hassidic community, which opposes political Zionism and funds Jewish education institutions in Yemen. Though the vast majority of Yemenite Jews now live in Israel, descendants of the large-scale aliya in the late 19th century and in the first years after the state's founding, the Satmars have campaigned for decades to prevent those remaining in Yemen from making the move. In January, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, head of the Satmar hassidim in Kiryas Yoel in New York, called on US Jewry and the Obama administration to "save" the remaining Yemenite Jews, whom he said faced growing verbal and physical attacks. Apparently in the wake of this request, the US Embassy in Sana'a has been interviewing Jewish families to grant them visas and refugee status in the United States. Similar efforts by the Israeli government have been unsuccessful because Yemen has refused to approve passports for Jews wishing to leave for Israel. The UJC defended the evacuation to the US by saying the community in Yemen was in real and immediate danger of attack by Islamist radicals. In December, Rabbi Moshe Yaish Nahara'i, the 30-year-old leader of the Jewish community in Rayda, was shot dead by an Islamist for refusing to convert to Islam. "The entire Yemenite-Jewish community now lives in fear of Islamic extremists and the persecution they may inflict in response to Israeli and world events," the UJC said. "As a result of worsening conditions, this community is actively seeking to leave the country. "In keeping with our mission to rescue Jews in need anywhere in the world, UJC/Jewish federations is committed to working collectively to help the Yemenite Jewish community find asylum as quickly as possible in Israel and the United States." According to UJC president Howard Rieger, "As we have done time and time again, our continental Jewish community heard the cry of Jews in need and is answering the call. We must not rest if even one Jew [is] in danger and we will work diligently with our partners in Israel and the US to ensure the safe immigration, resettlement and absorption of our Yemenite family." An e-mail written by Rieger to UJA Federation of New York head John Ruskay also notes that the UJC will coordinate with the Jewish Agency to help those who wish to make aliya from the US to do so. In February, the Jewish Agency brought a group of 10 Yemenite Jews on aliya.

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