The Jewish Agency in Israel is in an uproar. The agency, responsible for furthering Zionism’s goal by bringing Jewish immigrants to Israel, is outraged by the decision of the American UJC to bring 113 Yemenites to the US.
Now you could say what business is it of the Jewish Agency? What’s wrong with bringing Yemenite Jews to the US instead of Israel?
On the face of it, nothing. People can choose to live where they like and if the US is willing to accept them, why should Israel receive preference?
Except that the UJC is moving these Yemenite Jews to Monsey, NY, where they will live among Satmar Jews. Satmars are ultra-Orthodox Jews who happen to also be anti-Zionist in their world view. Their version of Judaism is a strict and demanding one and they have spent many years sending emissaries to Yemen in what can probably be called missionizing. The result has been that some Yemenite Jews have taken on this form of Judaism and some attempt to move to Monsey to join the broader community there.
Those of us who have seen the movie “In Satmar Custody” have a different view, perhaps, of what happens to Yemenite Jews when they reach Monsey. Here is part of the NY Times review of the movie:
Mr. Jaradi and his wife, Lauza, tell their story in Nitzan Gilady’s modest, disturbing documentary “In Satmar Custody.” The tragedy began to take shape after the Jaradis had been in the United States for several years. One day in 1998, at home in Monsey, N.Y., their daughter, Hadiyah, fell from her chair and lost consciousness. A neighbor tried to rouse the child by shaking her, Mrs. Jaradi says in the film, but to no avail. When Hadiyah was taken to a hospital, comatose, bruises were found on her, the Jaradis were charged with child abuse, and their other children were soon taken from them and placed with Satmar families. Hadiyah died in 2001.
The same thing has happened to native-born American parents, of course, some guilty and some completely innocent. But the Jaradis’ ordeal was intensified by the constraints of the life they had been able to make in the United States. The Satmars, who are ultra-Orthodox and also fervent anti-Zionists, took away Mr. Jaradi’s passport, he says, and forced him to work for them, fund-raising door to door. The children were not allowed to learn English, which, as the film notes, effectively made them even more isolated in their new home and dependent on the religious leaders.
A good bit of the documentary follows the Jaradis through the almost unbearably frustrating process of trying just to see their daughter and, when she dies, to be able to claim her body and bury her. But the message of “In Satmar Custody” is much more ominous than a lament about red tape.
When Shlomo Grafi, a Long Island man identified as chief executive of the Yemenite Heritage Fund, is asked in the film what the Satmar sect does, he says, “Mostly they like to take children.” One man says of Mr. Jaradi, “He was offered $20,000 for one of his twins.” Another tells of having lost all six of his children to Satmar leaders. Mr. Jaradi replies, “God help us.”
It is a horrifying film. Using the law to their advantage, the Satmars take advantage of this poor, young, ignorant couple who have come to America from Yemen and really know very little of America other than what they see in Monsey. Their struggle to regain their children is heartbreaking and the roadblocks put up by the Satmars are infuriating. The couple never does get their children back unless something has changed in the past couple of years since I first saw the film.
None of this is discussed in the debate between the Jewish Agency and the UJC, but it should be front and center.
The names of three UJC leaders are mentioned in the J Post article about this:
UJC leaders, including Board of Trustees chair Joe Kanfer, Executive Committee chair Kathy Manning and president Howard Rieger.
Dear Joe, Kathy and Howard, please rent a copy of “In Satmar Custody” before you take this step of bringing more Yemenite families into the Monsey Satmar community. I have to think that anybody who watches that movie can only conclude that sending Yemenite Jews to Mongolia or Dubai would be a smarter and more positive move than to Monsey. Or heck, even Israel would be a good place.