Gabriel Attar was born in 1951 in a dismal immigrant transit camp in Afula, Israel. His parents had been part of the soul-stirring effort of the Israel government to airlift more than 50,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel between 1948 and 1950.
Today, only a handful of Jews remain in Yemen.
Attar, a high school math teacher, spoke about his family’s history recently as part of a series of programs on Jews from Arab lands, sponsored by Congregation Keter Torah, the only Sephardic congregation in the Detroit area.
Strictly speaking the Jews of Yemen are not Sephardic but Mizrachi. Sephardic comes from the Hebrew word for Spain, and refers to the descendants of Jews who fled from Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition and settled in North Africa and the Middle East.
Jews who never left the Middle East but who stayed in Yemen, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries, are called Mizrachi, from the Hebrew word for “east.”
Operation Magic Carpet
Many of the Yemenite Jews who were airlifted from their homeland in the effort that became known as Operation Magic Carpet had never even seen an airplane, let alone ridden in one.
In Israel they were placed in tent cities until permanent housing could be built for them. Attar’s parents were born in one of these camps. She was 16 when they married.
Eventually the family was resettled in the Machane Yehuda section of Jerusalem, a multi-ethnic neighborhood that houses the city’s famous produce market.
Attar has vivid memories of the wedding of his uncle and aunt.
“Preparation started with the henna-painting party for the women one week before the wedding,” he said.
“For the wedding, Yona was dressed in traditional Yemenite bride attire with lots of jewelry. Every item of jewelry symbolized something different. Every ring and every bracelet was worn in a particular order to symbolize blessings such as fertility, longevity of life and marriage, peace in the home, etc.”
A family success story
Attar’s mother could not read or write, but her five sons are all educated and successful. His four brothers live in Israel with their families.
He met his American wife, Marilyn, when he was the driver and tour guide for her family who were visiting Israel. They married in 1985.
Guests at the program enjoyed a variety of Yemenite foods, including kubaneh, a traditional bread made for the Sabbath. It’s baked for a long time at a low temperature, and can even be baked overnight to be enjoyed warm on the Sabbath when cooking is not permitted.
This recipe comes from food.com.