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The Agony of the Absorption in the Land of Israel

The Yemenite Jews did not stay in Jaffa, as they aspired to travel to Jerusalem, “to endear her stones and cherish her earth”.

However, when they finally arrived, they found Jerusalem an extremely overcrowded city of great poverty,. As a result of the large demand, the Moslem house owners raised the rental prices and the Yemenite immigrants, whose journey to the Land of Israel exhausted all the money they had – could not afford a place to sleep. Because of their physical appearance, they were initially treated with suspicion, and people thought that they were not Jews, but rather Arabs. The Jews of Jerusalem were not enthusiastic about offering them help. 

For lack of choice the immigrants had to live in caves and catacombs near the grave of Rabbi Shimon HaTzadik and on the slopes of the Mount of Olives near the small village of Silwan, in the area known as Shiloach.

“And then, when the Yemenites started to settle in Jerusalem, there was no one in the world who could endure the suffering of the Yemenites in Jerusalem (תו). In the beginning of the summer they remained under the open sky, burning in the heat of the day and freezing in the cold of the night. They slept under the trees… abandoned and left in the fields, wrapped in hunger, large and small, infant and suckling, all begging for bread and there is none to be found, without the smallest coin in their pocket” (R Shalom AlSheick, the Story of the Immigration of the Jews of Yemen, A. Ya’ari, Masaot Eretz Yisrael, Ramat Gan, 1976, pp. 645-650). In May 1882, a group of American Christian families, headed by Horshay Stepford, met with the Yemenites (This was the group who established the American Colony near the Damascus gate). This American group, coming to Jerusalem for reasons of religious  Messianism, believed that their Messiah would come again with the return of the Children of Israel to their land. The group saw in the Yemenites the lost tribe of Gad returning to the Holy Land, and hurried up to acquire for them living quarters, food and medical help. But the Yemenites, feeling that missionary intentions were involved in their benefactors’ good will, cut all connections with them and, as a result, their condition deteriorated even more.