Home Again, Home Again

We are now back in the United States, after spending the past two and a half months in Yemen. The past week has been an absolute roller-coaster of emotions, stress, and insanity. I had been abroad for almost a year and a half, and I was more than ready to be home. Being abroad, especially in Yemen, makes you miss silly things: the ability to purchase Neosporin, knowing where to find packing peanuts, Vietnamese food, not having to bribe some crooked shmuck to get anything done, being able to write emails without worrying about whether the Ministry of Information is reading them, and so on. Some of those are sillier than others.

We arrived in Yemen the day before Eid al-Fitr, and left the day after Eid al-Adha. Our time there was bound on each side by the two most important holidays of the Islamic calendar.

In Yemen we spent the vast majority of our time with the last community of Yemenite Jews. I was working on a project of recording folklore, the stories of the last Jews of the oldest diaspora in the world. Over the coming months I will be translating those stories and slowly putting them online. However, I could not post anything on this blog about our experiences and the friendships we made, because the government keeps a very close watch on those who have contacts with the Jews, and we promised and swore that we were not journalists. Things could have been bad had I posted pictures and stories before we had actually left the country.

I would like, therefore, to publish the stories I would have published in Yemen, but could not. The following posts are all back-dated.

I would like to thank Mori Yahya Yusuf Marhabi, rabbi of the Sana’a community, who helped us countless times, and whose friendship I will not forget. Saying goodbye to him and his family was among the most emotionally difficult things I have done in recent memory.

These posts reflect not only my first experience doing fieldwork in folklore and linguistics, but also months spent in a community of people who became our close friends. Yemenite Jewry is a unique and ancient minority, and its survival in a war-torn and poverty-stricken corner of the map is of great importance to me. I feel that a piece of Jewish life dies whenever a community such as this is destroyed by emigration, and therefore the preservation of life there is crucial for the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Jewish people.

All photographs by Rachael Strecher

~ by Josh on December 7, 2009.

10 Responses to “Home Again, Home Again”

  1. Just made my way through all the newest posts. I’m glad you’re working on this project and can’t wait to read more about what you’ve recorded.

  2. Welcome home Josh – looking forward to seeing all your hard work and creativity come to fruition.

  3. Wow – I’ve been following along for a while but obviously wasn’t aware of the details of your research. It sounds like you’ve gathered some invaluable materials and I’m really looking forward to hearing more about it.

  4. The Govt also keeps an eye on people who hang out with Muslisms! So annoying! Anyway, I really look forward to reading your stories from the Yemeni Jews

  5. Dear Josh
    Have posted a link on ‘Point of No Return’, website about Jews from Arab countries. Yours is a precious and fascinating record of a vanishing way of life. Well done!

  6. What a wonderful blog this is! I learnt about it thanks to Barry Smolin in Facebook; now it is in my Favourite list. Best wishes

  7. dearest josh,
    the extent to which you are a baller is asymptotic, approaching infinity. i have been spreading your blog all over the web. i can’t wait to see the finished project and to see if you’re ever allowed back in yemen.

  8. Dear Sir or Madam,

    Today I took the liberty of using illustrations from
    your Website for my blog, which is not commercial.
    I used a few photos made by Rachel Strcher on the
    Jews of Yemen. I mentioned the source, of course.
    My intention has been all along to make Europeans
    aware of the fate of Jewish refugees from Arab
    countries (I personally am also one)

    Is this OK with you? If not – please do let me know.
    I will remove the material from your Webstie immedialtely.

    Many thanks indeed.

    Best from Berlin,

    Daniel Dagan
    Wilhelmstraße 90
    10117 Berlin


    tel. +49 30 – 22 62 06 50
    mob. +49 172 – 609 47 75

    Your colleague wrote this:

    Dear Daniel
    I don’t have Rachel’s email, but try contacting her via Josh Berer’s blog.
    Ask him or Rachel to intevene on the Kol Yisrael programme – they are the ones who were in Yemen for three months.
    Good luck for tonight!
    Best regards
    On Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 9:15 AM, Daniel Dagan wrote:

  9. Dear Josh,
    your photos are fascinating and your report as well. Just found your sitet redirected there from other pages and the pictures are stunning and saddening at once. Will you be there in the next time? Do you believe the Jews will indeed disappear from Yemen after all those centuries? You know he oral tradition claims that tehy’ve been there from the times of Bilqis Queen of Sheba… And others claim even from Moses’ times…
    Why aren’t they actually ready to go to Israel and rather go to the US? Are they afraid of the secularity in Israel?..

    All the best

  10. […] Ali Abu Sheheta, and in Yemen, where Rach and I spent Eid in the hospital arranging a med-evac to get us the hell out of Yemen. So I imagined this Eid would pass rather quietly and uneventfully here in rural […]

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