From 50,000 Jews a century ago, now almost none left

Yemen restores Jewish cemetery, remainder of a once booming, now long-gone community

Restoration of the 160-year-old burial ground that had been neglected for years began with civil organizations, before being picked up by government

A damaged Jewish grave is seen at the Jewish cemetery in the city of Aden in southern Yemen. (Twitter/Kan News)
A damaged Jewish grave is seen at the Jewish cemetery in the city of Aden in southern Yemen. (Twitter/Kan News)

A Jewish cemetery in Yemen’s southern port city Aden is undergoing restoration meant to preserve the last remnant of the country’s once-booming Jewish community.

“[Yemen’s] political leadership makes sure to preserve cemeteries and respects its Jewish cemeteries,” local journalist Ahmad Shalbi told the Kan public broadcaster in a report aired Sunday.

Initially reluctant to speak with an Israeli news site, Shalbi, who has covered the cemetery’s renovation in Yemen for months, said the move came after years of neglect.

“This cemetery was neglected and ruined. Parts of its surrounding wall were damaged,” he said, adding that efforts to renovate the site were first led by voluntary civil organizations before General Aidarus Qassem Abdulaziz al-Zoubaidi, the president of Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council, got involved.

“He established a task force that would renovate the cemetery and the walls around it, as well as other cemeteries that were neglected over the years,” Shalbi said.

According to a Yemeni official cited by Kan, the renovation of the Jewish cemetery is a “message to all Aden residents that Aden is a city of peace and that we will not accept any harm to any holy site.”

The Jewish cemetery in Aden has existed for more than 160 years and is believed to house hundreds of graves belonging to members of a community that no longer exists.

A local researcher told local media that, according to Jewish tradition, the cemetery is the burial site of the biblical figure Abel.

And while work is underway and significant parts of the cemetery’s wall have been restored, the graves are still in dire need of attention, the report said, requiring a budget that war-torn Yemen might be hesitant to allocate.

Still, the Yemeni initiative to restore the cemetery should not be taken lightly, and is even more surprising considering the civil war between a Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, which the country has been embroiled in for years.

While a truce established in April is intact, tensions remain high.

Houthi rebels have carried out systematic persecution of Yemen’s few remaining Jews, pushing the ancient community out of the country almost entirely.

Armed Houthi fighters attend the funeral procession of Houthi rebel fighters who were killed in recent fighting with forces of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, in Sanaa, Yemen, on November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/ Hani Mohammed, File)

According to a UN report published in February, there were seven Jews remaining in the country.

Related: Some of Yemen’s last remaining Jews said expelled by Iran-backed Houthis

The Yemeni Jewish community was over 50,000 strong in the early 20th century, but between 1949 and 1950, Israel brought nearly 49,000 Yemenite Jews to the state.

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