The Yemen Observer reports:
The Yemeni Jews of al-Salem celebrated Purim far from their homes last Sunday, in Sana’a’s Tourist City. The group of 45 Jews was forced to flee their homes in the northern province of Sada’a in January, after they received a letter threatening their lives.
Purim is Jewish festival celebrating the survival of the Jews marked for death in Persia in the 5th century BC. According to the Book of Esther, Haman, chief minister of King Ahasuerus, planned a general massacre of the Jews and set the date by casting lots. Ahasuerus’ wife Esther interceded for the Jews, and they were allowed to attack their enemies. The ritual observance begins with a day of fasting on the 13th of Adar (in February or March), the day before the actual holiday.
The Book of Esther is read in the synagogue, and Jews are enjoined to exchange gifts and make donations to the poor. Purim is a day of merrymaking and feasting. Purim is often celebrated by reading or acting out the story of Esther, and by making disparaging noises at every mention of Haman’s name. During Purim, it is a tradition to masquerade around in costumes and to give Mishloakh Manot (care packages, i.e. gifts of food and drink) to the poor and the needy.
Yahya Mosa, the son of the al-Salem’s rabbi, said that this feast is called alfor in the Hebrew language, and that it is called al-Fisal, which means “the separation,” in the Arabic language. He said that at this time they celebrate also the end of winter and the start of summer. “On this occasion Jews have to give charity, read Torah, and entertain their kids,” said Yahya.
In honor of the holiday, the Yemeni Economic Corporation took all the al-Salem Jews to its stores and gave them a chance to get new clothes for free. Ishaq Suleiman, 12, said he was happy that he got new clothes and that he was so happy to have a sports uniform that he can wear when playing football on the grounds of the Tourist City. “I even have new friends here that I play football with, and we were offered a new ball to play football yesterday,” said Ishaq. This is the best Purim he ever had, he said. “It was great because we were brought to the city and have everything we needed,” said Ishaq.
His older sister, Malko, 13, said she was very pleased to be in Sana’a and to have new clothes for free. Mr. Hamoud al-Waheeb, the manager of Tourist City, said that he was instructed by the Chairman of the Yemeni Economic Corporation, Ali al-Kuhlani, to bring all al-Salem Jews to the clothes shop of the corporation in Sana’a so that they can select clothing. “We took them there this morning and they chose the clothes they wanted,” said al-Waheeb. When the Yemen Observer visited the Yemeni Jews in their temporary residence on Purim on March 4, the atmosphere was a mix of joy and sadness.
While the kids and some of the older Jews were happy to have comfortable residences, free food and free living, some others were sad to be celebrating their feast away from their home village, al-Hayd in Sa’ada governorate, where battles are continuing between government forces and the al-Houthi Shiite insurgents. The Rabbi of the al-Salem Jews, Yusuf Mosa Salem, cried when he was greeted, and told Happy Purim, and his wife Neama had to leave the room for a minute to wipe away her own tears.
“We are very happy that the government and President Saleh cared about us and for hosting us in this complex,” said Neama when she returned to the room. “However, I really miss my al-Hayd village and my animals.” She displayed a photograph of her home village, kissed it, and cried again. “Thanks to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. He is a just and great leader. And thanks to everyone who helped us,” said Neama, smiling this time.
Her husband, Rabbi Mosa, suffers from a blood problem that paralyzed his right hand. He said he has been treated in Azal hospital in Sana’a and in Al-Salam hospital in Sa’ada. However, he hopes to be treated in the new Saudi German hospital in Sana’a if possible. Mosa is considered to be the highest Jewish religious scholar in Yemen. He also said that he was not happy to be away from his home village, and to not have Hebrew books that they have to read for prayers and for feast occasions.
The Jews had to leave all of their books in their village when they fled as a result of the threats of al-Houthi and his “Believer Youth” groups. The rabbi, his son Yahya and Suleiman Marhabi all hope to get back home before the coming feast of al-Fatih, Passover, on Nisan 15-22. Yahya said that according to their religious habits, on Passover they may not consume leavened bread. “Pesach (Passover) commemorates the liberation of the Israelite slaves from Egypt,” according to Wikipedia.
“No leavened food is eaten during the week of Pesach, in commemoration of the fact that the Jews left Egypt so quickly that their bread did not have enough time to rise. The first seder begins at sundown on the 15th of Nisan, and the second seder is held on the night of the 16th of Nisan. On the second night, Jews start counting the omer. The counting of the omer is a count of the days from the time they left Egypt until the time they arrived at Mount Sinai.”
“We have to clean our home stone grinders and polish them before we grind the wheat that we make bread from and all other food and drink that we have during the al-Fatih feast should be home made,” said Yahya. They cannot do that here in the tourist city, he said, and the only way to do it is when they are in their own homes. Suleiman Mosa Marhabi said that they received YR 20,000 for each family from the Ministry of the Interior when they arrived at Tourist City on Sunday, February 25, as pocket money.
They have also been receiving food, meat, and chicken everyday, but Marhabi said that the pocket money was not enough and hoped they could have extra money because they are not at their homes and cannot work, and therefore cannot make money. Yahya said they hoped that some organizations will provide them with some Hebrew books.
“We need ‘Sadadir’ ‘seders’ such as al-Fatih, Manara and Kuthara,” said Yahya. His father, Rabbi Yusuf Mosa, said he wanted Suddor ‘seder’ of the prayers. He said it was up to his son Yahya to send somebody to their village to bring their own books or to try to get books from elsewhere.