I was sharing a taxi with this woman on this cold and moonless night in the middle of Jerusalem.
She was on her way back from working late in Mea Sharim.
I was coming back from my usual whisky bar, and all roads lead to everywhere in the Holy City with Hashem on tap, and you get where you need to go because that’s how it works.
And I was heading out of the city, tired and spent. The last bus had come and gone, belching down King George, probably an hour before. We were stranded — but I had enough for a taxi, and I asked if we could drop her off.
“No, it’s okay — I’ll walk,” she said
“No way — it’s freezing and it’s late.”
A taxi pulled over, and we got in. She gave him directions, and I shut my eyes.
We didn’t know each other — but we were both American, which means we’re Landsman, which is as close as family some days when you’re an immigrant, and we talked about her work, and about the friends we have in common, and about the things she cared about.
“I just read a horrible article about the Yemenite kids who disappeared back in the 1950s,” she said. “I want to believe it isn’t true, but…”
The end of her sentence hung in the air.
All those Yemenite babies who vanished when they were born — their parents were told they were born blue, but there were no bodies and no graves, and a mother never forgets the cry her child makes when he is born, pink and healthy.
This happened years ago, when Israel had a pretty rotten track record of treating non-European Jews as less than human in the early days of statehood. Evidence is inconclusive. Maybe these babies really died of illness, or crib death. But many people still believe to this day that those babies were taken away and adopted out to Ashkenazi families who would do anything to be parents.
Less than 10 years after the Holocaust ravaged families, some wonder if maybe the Yemenite babies went to grieving Holocaust survivors who had their own kids murdered and couldn’t have more.
That’s the best case scenario, and it’s still the worst.
“It’s awful. The worst,” I said. “I don’t even want to imagine.”
We dropped her off.
“Goodnight!” she said to me in English. Then “Laila Tov” to the taxi driver.
He didn’t charge her for the ride, “and don’t worry, I won’t charge extra for you. It was nice of you to make sure she got home,” he said to me as we pulled away.
“It’s Israel — we take care of one another. We are family.”
I smiled and I closed my eyes.
The taxi driver cleared his throat.
“Pardon?” I asked.
“The girl we just took home — what she said about the babies. It’s true,” he said.
He looked at me through the rearview mirror.
“I’m a Yemenite,” he said. “And my aunt had two babies — two beautiful little girl babies. And the doctors told her one of them died when she was born. She grieved for her dead child, and she threw her whole heart into raising her living one. That girl — my cousin — got older and got her draft notice for the army, and she went to the army, and she saw a girl who had her exact same face, identical! And they had the same birthday, too. But her name was Weiss, or Gold, or something Ashkenazi, not Yemenite like the name she should have had.”
“My cousin tried to talk to her — but the girl pushed her away and told one of the officers that she was harassing her, and so they moved her to a different unit, and we never knew what happened to her. Her twin sister.”
“That’s heartbreaking. I’m so sorry.”
“Sometimes the truth is too horrible to face. She couldn’t face it. My aunt never got over it. Neither will I. Please tell people so they know, too.”
And it’s Israel, and we take care of each other because we are family.
So I’m telling you, just like he asked.
For more on the Yemenite children’s affair, you can read The Times of Israel’s full coverage here.