JERUSALEM (Jul. 14)
About 200 Yemenite Jews have secretly immigrated to Israel during the past year, the government publicly disclosed for the first time this week.
The Yemenites, most of whom have close family relatives already living in Israel, are presently housed in absorption centers in Rehovot and Ashkelon.
The government has until now kept the operation secret out of fear that disclosure would jeopardize the welfare of Jews remaining in Yemen as well as the chances of bringing more of them here.
The chairman of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration and Absorption Department, Uri Gordon, visited the newcomers in Rehovot on Wednesday and said at a news conference that some 900 Jews remain in Yemen, most of them in the capital of Sa’ana. He said they are not in any danger.
Other reports put the number of Jews remaining in Yemen at close to 1,500.
The newcomers have retained their traditional garb and appearance: the men with long curled sidelocks, beards and big colorful yarmulkes, and the women in long dresses.
In deference to their traditions, they are being taught Hebrew in segregated ulpan classes.
The absorption of the Yemenite Jews has been the subject of bitter controversy between fervently Orthodox parties inside and outside the government.
Degel HaTorah, a faction of the opposition United Torah Judaism Front, claims the immigrants are being deliberately stripped of their Orthodoxy by exposure to the secular side of Israeli life.
Degel HaTorah blames the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, a member of the governing coalition, for these supposed problems.
But a Shas party official directly involved in the Yemenites’ absorption, Deputy Housing Minister Aryeh Gamliel, hotly denied these accusations — as do government and Jewish Agency officials.