Part 1 of Israel’s Diverse “Oriental Jewish Communities”
by Norman Berdichevsky (December 2011)
A central tenet of Zionism is that Jews share a common heritage and destiny. Nevertheless, the reality of Jewish society in the state of Israel is marked by four prominent social and geo-cultural divisions: Orthodox observant vs. secular, veteran settlers vs. new immigrants, the haves vs. the have-nots and Geo-cultural origin (European vs. Middle Eastern or Oriental). more>>>
I appreciate the informative article by Norman Berdichevsky about the Yemenite Jewish Community. One question: what about the pre-Islamic Jewish community in Yemen? Where did they come from? What relations did they have with the established Jewish communities in the Hejaz region of northern Arabia? If one can believe the Arab historians, the Jews of Medina (Qaynuqa, Nadir and Qurayza) were all defeated by Muhammad between 624 and 628. Yemen came under Muslim control soon after the death of Muhammad, but not before the riddah wars of secession and apostasy. What role did the Yemen Jews play in this interim period between the advent of Muslim domination of Arabia and the Shi'a take-over of Yemen?
From the blog of Yaacov Lozowick, June 2010, an entry entitled "Music You Can Hear At A Wedding".
"Last night we were at a wedding...We got there from the side of the groom, though our original connection is through his stepmother.
"The groom's family is from Georgia (in the Caucasus, not the American South) but they've been here for a century or so.
"The stepmother's family used to be Old Yishuv, which means Ashkenazi Haredis who have been here for 200 years, or 300, or who knows how long.
"Most of their descendants are of course mainstream Israeli, not Haredi.
"The bride's family were mostly Yemenites, who came here either in the late 1880s, or in the 1940s, or both.
"The rabbi was North African.
"The bride is a number cruncher, the groom a lawyer, and his father...is an engineer whose company sells world-class special equipment in outlandish places like Columbia, Germany...and Pakistan.
"If you've ever heard stories about how Israeli society is divided along discriminatory ethnic lines, the wedding would have been a bracing experience.
"The most interesting part for me was the music.
"The band offered the whole gamut, from a few hassidic tunes, through the standard modern-orthodox religious music, all the way into Yemenite music, some of it with Greek overtones.
"Most of it had been adapted to sound like Mizrachi music, irrespective of its origins.
"At one point, however, the band did a solid 15 minutes of a Yemenite dance, and the Yemenite celebrators, teenagers to grandfathers, responded in an intricate set of steps that I wasn't even able to capture as an observer; with the exception of the groom's family, none of us non-Yemenites tried to join..".
And then there's another Israeli blogger I frequently read, "A Soldier's Mother". One of her sons - she and her husband made aliyah to Israel from the USA, and I think they are of Ashkenaz background - has married a girl from a Mizrachi background (I cannot recall, right at the moment, without looking up the blog entry, whether the girl was from a Persian or a Yemenite family); she was told that her new daughter-in-law would teach her that there were more different ways of cooking rice than she could ever before have imagined.