Jews escaping from Yemen on a secret mission save an ancient Torah scroll

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reads an ancient Torah scroll smuggled out of Yemen along with members of the Jewish community there. | Facebook/Prime Minister of Israel

JERUSALEM (Christian Examiner) – Israel has undertaken a secret mission to rescue some of the last remaining Jews from war-torn Yemen.

The Jewish Agency announced yesterday that 19 Yemeni Jews had arrived in Israel on a covert flight like something out of movie plot, bringing with them the only surviving Torah scroll in the country. The removal of the scroll, estimated to be between 500 and 800 years old, essentially acknowledges the end of the presence of Jews in the Arabian country – though 50 Jews elected to stay in a compound near the U.S. embassy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the Yemenite "olim" or immigrants after their arrival. He then read from the Torah scroll with one of the Yemeni children.

"Welcome to Jerusalem, to the Land of Israel. I am very excited to see you here," Prime Minister Netanyahu said. "It is moving that you know to read from the Torah. This is the basis. For many years we have thought about bringing you and with God's help, it is over."

Israel has a long history of sneaking Jews out of tight spots. According to the BBC, in 1949-50, just after Israel's creation in 1948, 51,000 Yemeni Jews came to the country with "Operation Magic Carpet." Only a handful remained, but those have increasingly come under attack as Houthi rebels aligned with the Islamic State have gone to war with the Yemeni government.

In a statement, the Jewish Agency said Jewish teacher Moshe Yaish Nahar was murdered in Raydah in 2008. In 2012, another member of the community, Aharon Zindani, was also murdered and a Jewish woman abducted and forced to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim man. The agency said Zindani's relatives were some of the Jews rescued from the country.

One of the families that arrived in Israel was from Saana, the center of the fighting between the government and rebels.

Natan Sharansky, CEO of the Jewish Agency said the airlift of the Jews from Yemen closes a chapter on one of the world's oldest Jewish communities, but "Yemenite Jewry's unique, 2,000-year-old contribution to the Jewish people will continue in the State of Israel."