Escaping Yemen: A Jewish Account

In their hometown of Raidah, Yemen, the Dahari family faced anti-Semitism on a daily basis. While most cases of hate crimes against Jews in the United States include verbal attacks and vandalism, anti-Semitism in the Middle East is not as widely understood. In 1948, the State of Israel declared and confirmed her statehood, consequentially a million Jews whom had been living in the Middle East (outside of present-day Israel) for thousands of years were forced from their homes and many were eventually resettled in the Jewish state. Since some Jewish refugees initially chose to stay back, they began to face worsened and more violent attacks. Many Yemeni stayed in their homes for many reasons, whether due to cost of moving, staying with their elderly relatives, or simply not wanting to move. In this case, the Dahari family was in the face of certain death, but notably their son Manny acted to face his family’s issues head on.

Speaking to Manny, he explained that his childhood as a Jew in Yemen was one of pride and fear. He spoke of his experiences with anti-Semitism and being in a country that his family had been in for hundreds of years, yet still feeling like a stranger there. “The life of being Jewish there is a dichotomy. At home, I was a proud Jew with a loving family. My father was the Rabbi of a great Jewish congregation. Though, outside our house I had to be vigilant and alert.” The events that Manny had to face as a child are terrifying for any parent. Even though Jewish-Yemenites are “in their own little bubble” they face daily threats of violence just outside their community. In one situation, Manny had a live firework stuffed in his pocket by a neighboring boy, though he was regularly targeted by Yemenite children with stones on his daily route to school. 

In 2006, Manny Dahari was a fortunate son. After years of hardship, his father was able to send Manny and his older brother 7000 miles away from their Yemeni home to the then foreign United States. At the time, the Dahari family had to raise enough money to send their sons to safety, even sending Manny’s older brother Tzemach to the United States earlier that year. While both Manny and his brother had to adjust to the Western tempo of the United States from the Eastern lifestyle they lived in Yemen, this was just the beginning of the Dahari family’s conflict.

Around 2008, Yemenite Jews saw an increase in violence starting with the slain murder of a teacher from Raidah. Making matter worse, the Middle East is an ever-changing region, in 2015 Yemen became the most recent country of instability. Their civil war in Yemen quickly became a proxy war between the Iran-backed Houthis and the government supported by Saudi Arabia. Bringing more anti-Semitism into the mix in Yemen, the time had come for Manny to save his family from certain death.

Seeking to bring the rest of his family to Israel, Manny began to contact the Jewish Agency and the US State Department. Attempt after attempt, Manny was resolute in lobbying these entities to bring his family to safety. He single-handedly went from agency to agency trying to bring his family to safety. Working like a dog, he knew that he was their only option. “Attempting to bring my family to Israel failed time after time. There were instance that we tried to use a private jet, but we ended up with too many logistic issues.” In the summer of 2015, the Dahari family was still trapped in Yemen. Though, a few months later, Manny’s hard work and persistence paid off. Manny and some of his brothers whom had been brought here over the years were reunited with four more of their siblings in Israel. Then, in March 2016, the whole family was together in the State of Israel.

Today, Manny Dahari attends Yeshiva University, majoring in marketing and political science. Involved on campus in Pro-Israel advocacy as well as the organization Mishelanu, an on-campus group for Israeli-American students. Manny told us that he intent on going to law school in the future and becoming connected with international law. He is also determined to educate World Jewry on the plight of Mizrahi Jews since the world has “no recollection of the million Jews whom were forced from their homes in 1948.” Looking at Manny Dahari, we are sure of the impact that one man can make.

About the Author
Since 1982, Jeff Seidel has introduced thousands of Jewish college students to their first Shabbat experience as well as offered free tours and classes through his Jewish Student Centers at Hebrew U in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, and IDC in Herzliya. He has lived in Jerusalem’s Old City for over thirty years and connected tens of thousands to the Land of Israel. He has also authored “The Jewish Traveler's Resource Guide,” which lists Shabbat placement programs around the world.
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