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Tuesday
Nov152016

AND HE SHALL VANISH IN THE WHIRLWINDS OF YEMEN

The case of the missing Yemenite children has again made the headlines. The hope is that in light of the government’s support on the issue, it will finally be investigated in a more serious manner. The Beis Moshiach Magazine took the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with several Anash families of Yemenite origin, who spoke with us about the personal tragedies they experienced during those early years of the modern Jewish state and the unsuccessful attempts to snatch their children. We also shed new light on what the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach said on this issue: how many children were actually kidnapped, how this case was connected to the Yossele Schumacher affair, whether religious Jews were involved, and whether it’s still possible to find these missing children.

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

My grandparents, Rabbi Natan and Rachel Avraham, lived across the way from Rabbi Zecharia and Chana Taizi in the town of Gedera. Only a narrow gravel road separated the two houses. They came there from Taiz, Yemen, after a brief period of absorption at the immigrant transit camp at Ein Shemer. Between the two families, there reigned a deep friendship that continues to this day among the children and grandchildren. Rabbi Natan, for whom I merited to be the first grandchild to be named, was a modest and humble Jew, a learned and pious man who devoted all his time to the study of Torah. His friend, Chacham Zecharia, was known among the members of the Yemenite community in Eretz Yisroel as a great kabbalist and performer of miracles.

The families experienced many things together, among them the hardships of the immigration process in Eretz Yisroel. However, this wasn’t what troubled them the most, as they were already used to a life of poverty in their country of origin. Above all, they invested their energy in their Torah study, passing the torch of emuna to the coming generations. The main problem they encountered was the atmosphere of heresy that pervaded among the people living on the old yishuv.

This is the reason that when the appropriate opportunity came their way, they sent their children to receive a proper Jewish education in Chabad learning institutions. Thus, most of the children from these two families received a Chabad education and raised Chabad families.

However, there was one more experience that the two families went through, an extremely sad and harsh experience that no immigrant family from Yemen seemed to avoid. Both the Ta’izis and Avrahams suffered the kidnapping of one of their small children, and their whereabouts are unknown to this day. In the Avraham family, it was a one-day old infant, whereas with the Ta’izis, the child was already seven months old. Neither of these families obtained any official government documents attesting to the death of their child. Not even the burial place is known to them, thereby leaving the parents in doubt as they longed for the return of their missing child for the rest of their lives. Deep within their hearts, they already knew even then that they had been deceived and their children were still alive somewhere.

In recent weeks, the Yemenite children kidnapping affair has again made the headlines due to a debate held before the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which considered a proposal submitted by a group of Knesset Members requesting the declassification of all protocols from the state inquiry committee on the Yemenite Children Affair. Since then, various media outlets and even the prime minister have expressed the need to reveal the details on this issue. Investigators had spoken about thousands of children kidnapped in a systematic manner, although there are those who have cast doubts upon this finding. 

The Rebbe MH”M’s position on this matter is absolutely consistent with the fact that we’re talking about a methodical series of kidnappings, as will be discussed in the course of this article.

ON THE WINGS OF EAGLES

The matter which became known as the “Yemenite Children’s Affair” concerned the disappearance of the infant children of new immigrants, mainly but not solely, from Yemen. There are also reports on children from the Balkan states and the nations of North Africa kidnapped between 5708-5714. While the parents were told that they had died, they remained quite unconvinced and believed that their children had been taken to be put up for adoption.

Throughout the years, many cases have been revealed of adoptions carried out without the real parents’ knowledge. A number of government officials, including state-employed doctors and nurses, have testified on the unexplained disappearance of these children, a phenomenon that left a heartbreaking feeling among the new immigrants.

The wave of immigrants that reached the shores of Eretz Yisroel during the first years following the establishment of the modern Jewish state brought hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over the world within a relatively short period of time. The state of Israel, which was still in the early stages of its development, was simply unprepared to absorb such a large number of immigrants. This created a serious lack of housing and health services. Most of the newcomers were sent to live in tents, transit camps, and other temporary residential units.

This mass aliya operation, code named “Wings of Angels,” brought about fifty thousand Jewish émigrés from Yemen. Most of the families conducted a religious way of life and were located in four main encampments - Rosh HaAyin, Pardesia, Ein Shemer, and Atlit. Among the immigrant families were numerous children, including infants, some of whom suffered from serious physical health problems.

The various testimonies of the new immigrants describe similar incidents with vague details: Many children were in serious physical condition, placed in the hospital, and left under the supervision of state health officials. The parents came to visit their child and were stunned to hear that the child had died and had been taken away for a swift burial. The shock was great not only because of the child’s death, but due to its suddenness, as the child had been showing signs of recovering just the day before. Many of these parents were not even given a death certificate and surely were not shown the location of their child’s burial. Some of them tried to protest and demanded the most basic and vital information about the fate of their child, but to no avail.

The mysterious circumstances of these events led to the inescapable conclusion that while many children were registered as deceased, they were actually kidnapped and given over for adoption. They were still alive, except that they weren’t with their biological parents.

Over the years, four official investigative commissions were established for the purpose of exploring the matter, but none of them took any of the necessary bold steps. Now, twenty years since the last inquiry, the government of Israel has appointed the Cabinet Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to be in charge of reviewing the documents in the Israel State Archives.

In this article, we bring the deeply emotional stories of four immigrant families from Yemen, alongside the words of the leader of the generation on this issue, previously unknown to most people.

“THE INNOCENCE
WAS GONE”

From many of the first-hand testimonies that we gathered in preparing this article, it appears that the infants were usually taken by the hospital staff not immediately after they were born, rather when they were already several months old. Not so with the Avraham family, from whom a child was taken when it was only a day-old infant. “When I was still a young girl in the Ein Shemer transit camp,” recalled my aunt, Mrs. Miriam Mizrachi from Lod, “my mother told me that she had a feeling that the baby had been taken and was still alive. She gave birth in a hospital, and during the time that she was there, she managed to nurse the child and everything appeared in order. Then, just a few hours later, the nurse informed her that the child had passed away.”

This whole matter obviously took a heavy toll upon you.

To a certain extent, it took away all the innocence and naïveté we once had. When your other aunt, Gila from Gedera, was a two-day old infant, she wasn’t feeling well and her mother took her to the hospital, where the doctors informed her that she would have to stay there overnight. This was their standard ploy; they would hospitalize the child over the slightest medical problem, and soon afterwards, the child would disappear. That night, your grandfather unexpectedly woke up in the middle of the night with a very bad feeling. He nervously jumped out of bed, went to the hospital, grabbed the baby, and went back home…

The story of the missing child stayed with the family throughout the years.

My father never spoke about it, although my mother did with deep sadness for the rest of her life. She always felt that he was still alive.

What did this story do to the family in those days? What effect did it have?

The baby was snatched when we were still living in a transit camp. Representatives from ‘HaShomer HaTzair’ eventually came to the camp to take all the youngsters to kibbutzim. While there were those who gave in to the enticement tactics, my grandfather would not let us leave the tent.

I’ll tell you something that might sound strange to you, yet it was the reality back in those days. Several weeks after we began learning in a state-sponsored religious school, my grandfather took us out and registered us in a regular public school. Many people raised their eyebrows in amazement, but my grandfather told us, “In a state religious school, you don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong, whereas in a regular public school, I can tell here and now, ‘It’s all a lie.’ What you get at home is the truth…” The tradition that my parents brought with them from Yemen was a deeply pious one, without any compromises or cutting corners.

My grandfather was deeply concerned for our Judaism, as in those days, there were many attempts to eradicate the traditions of Yemenite Jewry, and the kidnapping of the children was merely a part of this scheme.

“MOTHER NEVER FORGOT”

In those days, one of the neighbors of my aunt, Miriam Mizrachi, was Mrs. Rina Weiss (nee Ta’izi). She has a similar story, although their child already had a name - Avner.

“My mother told us that the baby was in a daycare center, when she came to nurse him. The attendant there told her to come outside and he told her that the baby had died. My mother became frantic. ‘The baby wasn’t even sick,’ she claimed, but there wasn’t much that she could do. When my father asked for the body in order to give his child a proper Jewish burial, the health authorities informed him that he had already been buried, and no one knew where the grave was.”

How did the parents react?

Up until the last day of her life, my mother spoke about him and said that she is certain that he is still among the living. She often thought about how old he was and what he was doing at this age or another… My father was a tzaddik and kept everything to himself. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that he thought about him in his heart, while we as children saw him involved in the study of Torah at every waking moment.

Did this have an impact upon the conduct within the house?

Mrs. Rina Weiss echoed what Miriam Mizrachi stated earlier about a “loss of innocence.” “My father was very careful about anyone who came to the house representing the state and its institutions. Let me tell you something: My late brother, Natan Yehonatan a”h, learned for a period of time in a yeshiva in Ohr Yehuda, even bringing several of the local neighborhood boys along with him. One week, after spending Shabbos at home, my father took him to the train station for his trip back to yeshiva. Imagine how surprised he was to get a phone call from the rosh yeshiva asking why the boy hadn’t come back yet. Eventually, my father received a telegram from one of the ‘HaShomer HaTzair’ kibbutzim stating that the boy was with them. He was eating well, sleeping well, and getting a proper Zionist education r”l.

“By this time, my father was no longer naïve, and he sent them a raging message in reply. ‘If you don’t send my son home immediately, I’ll contact the police and make a scandal out of this everywhere in the country.’ When my brother came home, he was without his peios and had grown a large forelock. My father was so horrified that he put a keffiyeh on my brother’s head to cover the damage. That night, he brought the local barber to the house to shave off the forelock. My father fasted then for forty days and underwent physical mortification to atone for those two weeks when my brother stayed in a kibbutz.”

WHAT DOES THE REBBE SAY?

The mystery of the Yemenite children, which has yet to be solved to this day, has been referred to on numerous occasions by the Rebbe MH”M. The Rebbe related with the utmost solemnity to the claims made by the immigrant families that the government authorities acted with sheer treachery towards them.

During one of his visits to 770, journalist Shmuel Avigdor HaKohen had a comprehensive discussion with the Rebbe on events in Eretz Yisroel. During their talk, the Rebbe spoke in very harsh terms on a number of issues. Mr. Avigdor HaKohen wrote as follows (printed in HaRabbi, Vol. 1, pg. 94):

“The Rebbe spoke with great fervor and sometimes struck the table with his hand as he spoke: ‘This arouses the question of the Yemenite immigrant children who disappeared. Such a matter should have shaken the country and given it no respite until the matter is clarified, until the fate of those children has been determined. However, with what indifference do people relate to this terrible affair? On the matter of the child Yossele Schumacher they made an uproar throughout the world. And what essentially happened there? A grandfather wanted his grandson to receive a Torah education. Everyone knew that the child was alive and well and in good hands. Do you remember what was done in Eretz HaKodesh then? How did they talk about this in the papers? How did the emotions boil with rage? And here, it is revealed that three hundred and fifty ‘Yosseles’ vanished yet no one is shocked and alarmed, and the newspapers write virtually nothing about it.’”

The Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach touched upon this issue during a sicha from Chaf MarCheshvan 5747, nearly forty years after the events: “It is known and publicized to everyone what occurred thirty, forty years ago with the emigration of the children of Yemen and the children of Tehran to Eretz HaKodesh: Small children who emigrated with their parents to Eretz HaKodesh - were hidden from their parents, while they offered various baseless excuses that the children required medical treatment and their condition was serious, etc., until they were informed that the children had passed away… And all this why? Because they didn’t want them educated by their parents who observed Torah and mitzvos, in order that they could educate them as they wished through a total detachment from Jewish heritage!”

THEY BURNED THEIR SOULS!

Later in this sicha the Rebbe pointed an accusing finger for this affair, speaking in unusually severe tones: “For the purpose of [achieving] this objective, they stole children from their parents! And who then was among those who headed this [effort]? A Jew who puts on t’fillin, davens three times a day, and observes Torah and mitzvos in his private life. Nevertheless, not only didn’t he prevent this, on the contrary - he cooperated and was among the leaders of those who committed this frightful crime! And when people raised a hue and cry: How can this be? This is an act against justice and honesty, the complete opposite of humanity - they replied:

“We saved them from death, and therefore, these children belong to us…” And not only like someone who is a ‘Canaanite slave,’ but much worse, like an object that is one’s personal property, such that if he merely wants, he can burn the object. In our case, this is the burning of children r”l, not the burning of the body, but the burning of the soul, giving them over to Molech r”l!

“Hundreds of small children disappeared during this period, and to this day, the parents don’t know the fate of their children, where they are today!”

“WE WERE ONLY TRAVELING TO TEL AVIV”

Gedera wasn’t the only place where children from Yemenite families disappeared; this also happened in all the settlements and transit camps where immigrants from Yemen were located. The Rebbe’s shluchim in Ta’anach, Yemenite emigres Rabbi Saadia Jerufi and his wife Shulamit, were recently interviewed by the Chabad.info website, and they spoke with great anguish about this affair from their vantage point.

“At the age of five and a half, I personally endured an attempted kidnapping. This occurred when we were living on Moshav Tarum, near Beit Shemesh, in a flimsy tin shack. The conditions were inhuman, but this was the price of immigrating to Eretz Yisroel. One afternoon, my mother noticed a woman wearing a nurse’s uniform coming toward the shack and quickly hid me under the bed. When the woman came up to the entrance to the shack and asked where I was, I heard my mother tell her, ‘He’s not here.’ By a miracle, the ‘nurse’ didn’t pursue the matter and moved on.”

Would they also kidnap older children, not just small infants?

They would come to say that since there was a medical problem of some kind, they had to take the children.

Do you know of neighbors or other family members who went through similar experiences?

At this point, the shlucha, Mrs. Shulamit Jerufi, gave an account of an incident that terrified her entire family: “We immigrated to Eretz Yisroel from Dhamar, Yemen directly to the immigrant camp in Rosh HaAyin. As with many of the immigrant children, my sister Naomi was in the children’s home. I along with the other children at home would often plead with our mother that we wanted to visit our aunt, who lived in Tel Aviv’s HaTikva neighborhood. She had been among the very first Yemenite Jews to immigrate to Eretz Yisroel. One day, she gave her consent and we made the trip to Tel Aviv to visit our aunt. When we returned the following day, the nurse at the children’s home informed us that our sister has passed away! To this day, I remember my mother screaming, ‘What are you saying? That’s impossible! She wasn’t even sick!’”

How old was she?

Two or three years old.

What do you think about the numerous stories of kidnapped children? Are they all true?

When you hear the same detailed account from hundreds of families, there can be no doubt. They simply stole Yemenite children!

The parents back then must have known this. Why didn’t they defend themselves and their rights?

What could they possibly do? They were honest and naïve people who knew nothing about the harsh reality of life in Eretz Yisroel. Here’s a little story: My grandfather brought four Torah scrolls and cartons of s’farim from Yemen. However, the Zionist authorities wouldn’t give him the cartons, which also included the birthdates of all the children and grandchildren. Only after a lot of hard work and bureaucratic red tape, he managed to get back two of the four sifrei Torah.

They took all the money we had brought with us. Some of the immigrants were a bit cleverer: They put hot peppers in the cartons and placed all their jewelry underneath, because the authorities stole all the valuables the immigrants had brought with them, leaving them with nothing except the clothes on their backs.

Why do you think they did this mainly to the Yemenite Jews?

Because they were the first who immigrated to Eretz Yisroel and they were extremely naive. Furthermore, they had many children and were lacking even the most basic material needs - and the authorities took full advantage of this.

THE NURSES CONVINCED THE MOTHER TO RETURN HOME

It seems that there isn’t a single Yemenite family in Eretz Yisroel without a family member who had been kidnapped. Virtually every Yemenite family we encountered could tell us about one of their family members who had disappeared under suspicious circumstances. We heard another story out from Rabbi Tziyon Amos, member of the Chabad community in the Holy City of Tzfas, who spoke about a gaping family wound - the kidnapping of his older sister, Tziyona. This sister was a seven-month old baby at the time whose skin and facial features differed somewhat from the classic Yemenite; she was light-skinned and blue-eyed. Her parents had immigrated to Eretz Yisroel from Yemen in mid-5711 and came to the transit camp at Kfar Shammai in the upper Galilee. From there, they moved to a shack on Moshav Nacham, near Beit Shemesh.

The father Musa (Moshe) had come with two boys and a girl from a previous marriage, while the mother Mazal also had two daughters from her own previous marriage. They had both been widowed. After getting married, they were blessed with the birth of a baby girl, whom they named Tziyona as an expression of their joy over returning to Zion.

How was she kidnapped?

When she was seven months old, she became ill with chickenpox. The Jewish Agency counselor who maintained close contact with the Yemenite immigrants saw Tziona covered with scabs as her mother held her. When she asked how the child was being treated, my mother replied quite simply that she was using the same primitive methods that had customarily been used in Yemen during those times. “Madam,” the counselor said angrily, “this is not Yemen! I order you to take your child to the hospital in Yerushalayim.”

My mother was a very simple shepherd woman, and even though she was pregnant at the time, she was forced to go down to the Beit Shemesh police station. After waiting there for several hours, she was taken to Yerushalayim in a police jeep. When my mother arrived at the ‘HaZiv’ Hospital (today known as Bikkur Cholim Hospital), the Jewish Agency counselor told her firmly through an interpreter that the child must be hospitalized. My mother tried to assure the counselor that she would never neglect her child, promising her that these old-fashioned Yemenite methods have cured many people - but to no avail.

After my sister Tziyona was taken away by the nurses for an examination, another nurse who knew Arabic came out and told my mother that the baby had to undergo a series of tests and sent her home. “Go back to the moshav and feed the sheep. Besides, you need your rest. You’re expecting.” My mother returned home late that night, tired and exhausted. When my father asked her where Tziyona was, she replied that she had been taken to the hospital for a series of tests. A few days later, my parents went to the Beit Shemesh police station to ask for some information. They were shocked to hear that Tziyona had passed away on the day she was hospitalized…

What did your parents go through during those moments?

My father told the police that according to Torah law, they had to rend their garments and begin a period of mourning. The police sent him to look for her grave in the Givat Shaul cemetery, accompanied by a Russian-speaking nurse who didn’t understand a word he said - and vice versa. After a lengthy search, he found a fresh mound of dirt. My father did kria and recited T’hillim. In those days they were certain that the doctors were trustworthy. A few months later, their second child was born - me. They gave me the name Tziyon. My parents, who had mourned for the loss of my sister, wanted to remember her through my name.

At what point did they start having doubts about what had happened?

The years passed, and when Rabbi Uzi Meshulam began speaking publicly about the lost Yemenite children, this aroused serious questions in my mother’s mind as well. After my father’s passing, when the state commission of inquiry was established to investigate the Yemenite children’s affair, I remember that a taxi arrived at our house to bring my mother before the commission to give testimony. The commission’s findings were kept hidden from public scrutiny, and my mother passed away a few years ago, deeply anguished that she was never able to learn the fate of her daughter.

Within our own family, my younger brother Rachamim did his own investigation into the affair. Thirteen years ago, he managed to access the hospital archives in search of the death reports from those years. He surprisingly discovered that all the files from that period were gone. When the person in charge realized what my brother was looking for, he asked him to leave the premises immediately.

NOT TO HESITATE TO RE-OPEN THIS ISSUE

We asked the people we interviewed about how the issue of the missing Yemenite children was in the headlines once again and whether they believed that the actual protocols would finally be revealed:

Rina Weiss (nee Ta’izi): I’m not certain that this will happen so fast. Nevertheless, it’s impossible not to see the literal coming of the days of Moshiach, on the level of “they will be clarified and whitened.” Now, everything is coming to the surface. What is most painful is that there were people then who instead of saying “Due to our transgressions, we were exiled from our land,” they said, “Due to our transgressions, we were exiled to our land.” They longed for the glory days of Yemen, where they could daven, learn Torah, and educate the young generation according to the path of truth and uprightness.

Shulamit Jerufi: I pray that at least we’ll find out the truth. If these accusations are unfounded, there would be nothing to hide. They simply stole children. My father would say: “My Naomi is alive!” It is known that when someone passes away he is forgotten from the heart. However, Naomi was not forgotten, because she’s alive! For the rest of their lives, both my parents said that while they didn’t know where she was, they knew that she was alive! I hope that the truth will be revealed and the great shame and disgrace done to the Jews of Yemen will finally be exposed.

There are those who argue that it’s too late already, as all the vital information has been lost or destroyed. However, the Rebbe MH”M doesn’t share that view. In the aforementioned sicha, the Rebbe contends that it’s definitely possible to turn things around on this issue:

“Even today, after thirty, forty years, there is a possibility to track down these children, as the government ministries that dealt with the children have precise lists showing the names of all the children, where they were sent, etc. However, the trouble is that they don’t want to give the lists of the children’s names, and worst of all - no one opens his mouth in protest. A few people have recently demanded that they release the lists of the children - but it was nothing more than “a weak and feeble voice,” and it was no help at all!

“Furthermore, those who ‘scorn’ everything immediately came and even ‘scorned’ this demand!… Thus, you can’t talk to ‘scorners’ at all, nor can you even sit in their company, as Dovid HaMelech says at the beginning of the Book of T’hillim, ‘In the company of scorners he does not sit.’ And our Sages, of blessed memory, have already stated that ‘a company of scorners’ is one of four classes of people who will not ‘receive the Divine Presence!’… There are those who claim that even if they would give the lists of the children, it wouldn’t help to fix the situation and bring them back to their home and tradition, to be children born to parents who observe Torah and mitzvos - as thirty, forty years have already passed during which they were raised in an atmosphere contrary to Torah.

“Yet, even this claim has no place. While this is the hardest possible work, nevertheless, it is forbidden to despair over a Jew in any situation, and no one can take upon himself the responsibility to come and say regarding this person or that person that it’s impossible to do anything to bring him closer to Torah and Yiddishkait.”

REPAIRING THE PRESENT - AND THE PAST

It would seem that the best way to conclude this article is with an excerpt from the Rebbe’s sicha from Shabbos Parshas VaEira 5747: “It is a holy obligation upon all those with the ability to do everything dependent upon him to prevent and stop the stealing of children occurring at present, and in addition, to try and repair what had been done in the past as well. Those unable to take action in this matter should strengthen their activities in the matter of education, as mentioned, to make certain that Jewish children receive a Jewish education in the spirit of Torah, sparing no effort and exertion, etc. (as we can learn from the opposing side…), for we are talking about pikuach nefesh!”

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