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Helping Yemenite Jews Emigrate to America instead of Israel

from "In Satmar Custody"

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.

Please reconsider.

15 Comments

  1. Yael

    5/24/2009 at 4:46 am

    I’d like to watch this, but I’m having trouble finding it. Anyone know where I can buy/rent it?

  2. Yael

    5/24/2009 at 5:06 am

    Thanks, but I need it with English subtitles. Will keep looking.

  3. froylein

    5/24/2009 at 5:12 am

    You’ll get it without; much of it is in English. 16 minutes in, I’ve only seen one Satmar person so far except for the intro.

  4. Yael

    5/24/2009 at 5:40 am

    Cool, thanks!

  5. froylein

    5/24/2009 at 8:15 am

    Alright, I watched the documentary, looked around for more information and forwarded what I had found to insiders of the community.

    As was reported by the NYT in 2001, the bruises on the girl were in various stages of healing. That is generally understood as a sign typical of frequent abuse. (cf. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/15/nyregion/child-s-death-spotlights-culture-shock-among-yemeni-jews.html?pagewanted=2) The doctor at the end of the documentary suggested the girl died because of mistreatment at the hospital; if anything, that would require further investigation. (A lot of children in the US die from misplaced breathing tubes every year, partly because doctors do usually not get to practise on children that have passed away even though a survey indicated that more than 70% of all parents would consent to such a procedure had their child just passed away if that could help in saving another child’s life.)

    The idea that Satmar people take away children and even in all seriousness try to buy them is pretty absurd; anybody familiar with that community knows that, despite the ideal of large families, any additional child also means additional high expenses that can in no way be met by child welfare contributions (with marrying off a child alone in a non-too elaborate wedding easily totalling up to $50k per child). Also, adopted children are always problematic in terms of yichus. In the documentary, it was actually shown that the Satmar community was supportive in claiming the girl’s body. I’d like to add that the Jaradi children were no differently educated than Satmar children. There definitely are a lot of serious flaws to be found within the Satmar community, but based on the actual facts available on public record, making blames beyond what investigators found appear a tad bad-mouthing, even more so if you’ve got some insight into the community in question.

    Placing Yemenites among Satmar communities though still is a bad idea as that extreme cultural gap cannot be bridged all that easily.

  6. Yaaqoob Zvi

    5/24/2009 at 10:31 am

    May I comment on this story?

    My name is Zvi Yaaqoob with close friends in Yemen.
    I am very close with the Jaradi Families in Yemen’ In Israel, In Monsey. The story with Yehya and Loza Jaradi has nothing to do with Satmar. I am communicating a lot with them since they moved to Israel. They are now in Israel and 9 years ago they were many nights in my house here in Boro Park.
    The Film “In Satmar Custody” is a nice produced film, Nitzan Gilady who is a film producer makes it up, and it’s just like the film of the killing of Jesus, which was produced a few years ago.

    Yehya Jaradi told me 100 times in my face that they never had any children abducted by Satmar people. It’s a Rockland County Family judge who set the judgment.
    Yehya even told me that he was very happy while residing 4 years at the Satmar community.

    Yehya and his wife Loza came to the US in August 1994 with 2 kids when they got a nice apartment by Satmar for a few years. Until April 1998 they lived on a street called Gezl Berger Blvd. Which is in the Satmar community in Monroe N.Y. (that is in Orange county not to be mistaken with Monsey, NY which is in Rockland county and is not a Satmar community.)
    They returned to Yemen in end of March 1998 when Loza’s mom called from Yemen demanding her daughter to come visit her in Yemen.

    The Jaradi’s with the 2 Girls Ghoson and Laye returned to Yemen on the expense of Satmar who paid for the Travel.
    Yehya wanted to stay in NY but after a few weeks he also returned to Yemen.
    Since then; the Jaradi’s had no more anything with Satmar.

    In October 1998 Yehya and loza Jaradi decided to come again to the US on their own. Nothing to do with Satmar, They went too look for an apartment on their own, First in Lakewood, NJ then in Montaindale, NY then they decided to settle in Monsey without any connections to Satmar. On Dec. 23rd late evening Yehya was not home and without any abuse it happened an unexpected tragedy with the 18-Month-old Hadiyah. She fell from the table and hit her skull on a corner point of the baseboard iron-heating unit, that was no ones fault. When Loza (the mother called for help, the child was taken by local ambulance to the Westchester Medical center Emergency room were they started the whole story of abuse.

    Another point:
    Monsey NY is a city just like Flatbush and has nothing to do with Satmar. Over 10,000 Jewish families who are living in Monsey are from all kinds of people, Sephardim and Yemenites, Chabad and Yeshiva style, Ashkenazi and Hasidic. 90% of them have nothing to do with Satmar.

  7. themiddle

    5/24/2009 at 1:24 pm

    Yaaqoob, if you watch the movie at the link above, you will see that at 30:30, the Yemenite community activist explains that the Satmar community uses the Yemenite families as a key element in their fundraising. They also, according to him, tend to take Yemenite children into their households so they can receive governmental subsidies they would receive otherwise. He is saying this after you clearly see that people in the community aren’t giving Yehya information about his deceased daughter. The protest is organized without his input. The burial is arranged without his input and he is lucky to just receive an invitation to the burial.

    At around 41:20, you have the shiva and one of the Satmar mothers who comes to the shiva explains why she didn’t bring one of their children. Her reason? He was sleeping. In fact, she continues to explain, all the other children who are now living in Satmar households are sleeping. At around 45:10, the mother describes how when she visits a daughter at one of the Satmar families that raises her, the mother asks her not to take the child to the car. This is not to discuss that the Satmar families don’t make an effort to raise the children with any knowledge or respect for the place from which they originate. At 47:30, Yehya explains how they brought him in on a student visa but expect him to go fundraising for work. He also explains that the Satmars have his passport and haven’t returned it. He further explains that they use him and pictures of him for fundraising but he doesn’t see a penny of that money. At 49:00 you have a second Yemenite family – Salam and Fadah – who also had all of their six children taken by the social services and given to be raised by families in the Satmar community. Isn’t that a little too much of a coincidence, Yaaqoob? at Around 50:50, Yehya starts talking about how he had no idea there would be people in the Satmar community – cheats, he calls them – who would make a business out of his children. And they give him a 10% commission, even though he says he wants his kids not the money.

    And finally, why weren’t the children given back? Yaaqoob, the family is in Israel, the doctor interviewed at the end of the film says his investigation into the daughter’s death showed that medical malpractice was the reason for the child’s death and the Rockland prosecutor never filed murder charges against the mother for the daughter’s death.

    And please don’t give me this line about Monsey at the end when it’s clear that it’s the Satmar community that has lobbied for their coming to this area.

  8. froylein

    5/24/2009 at 5:12 pm

    The children aren’t given back because a secular judge has decided such. Otherwise the kids could have been returned with police force. Frum Jews (and frum means more than wearing a collared shirt / skirt on most occasions and keeping somewhat kosher) are not crazy to adopt “strangers'” kids for the very reasons I mentioned above.

  9. froylein

    5/24/2009 at 5:24 pm

    Here are the guidelines for adoption subsidies in NY:

    – foster children don’t receive any subsidies; children must be available to adoption.
    – adopted children must either be handicapped or “hard to place” to be eligible for subsidies (cf. http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/adopt_assistance/state.cfm).
    – the maximum amount of subsidies is $2,000/month. (Yeshiva etc. is around $1,000/month at a cheap one just to provide some gauge.)

  10. themiddle

    5/24/2009 at 10:40 pm

    They are raising funds by going to wealthy individuals and telling them stories about the needy kids. This is what Yehya says in the movie.

    In the early part of the movie, the two men who try to help the Yemenite Jews state that the lawyer to defend the wife from the charges against her was provided by the Satmar community. He further states that the outcome was beneficial to the Satmars, not to the couple who lost all their children…to Satmar families.

  11. froylein

    5/24/2009 at 11:03 pm

    They also do the fund-raising with non-Yemenite poor, handicapped, frum celebrities etc. They are no different there than other fundraisers.

    The decision in court was taken by a secular judge based on, as the NYT article suggests, the late girl’s showing symptoms of previous physical abuse not related to her very accident. Having a foster kid placed with you is not beneficial to Satmar (or any other frum) families. There are no subsidies under NY state regulations for accepting those children. Either those two men are clueless as to how the community works or they aim at giving the Satmar community a bad name.
    I’m not saying Yemenite Jews had it easy, they certainly didn’t and wouldn’t have had it easy in any state / environment that was fast-forward 1,000 years from what they were used to. But what the documentary displays seems to be a pamphlet turned a film, not a film documenting matters.

  12. batya

    5/28/2009 at 12:45 am

    i share the same concern as froylein re: subtitles. so if anyone knows of a link to the video with subtitles b’anglit, or could translate and provide a transcript, that would be great!
    i’m in shock while watching the video, especially at how the family of the baby doesn’t know what is going on. the film is confusing for me, and not just confusing because my hebrew is shoddy 🙂 i’m confused as to why no one is helping the family, why they are so isolated from even their “own” community. perhaps the filmmaker made it confusing on purpose so as to mirror the confusion felt by the father and mother?
    and where is everyone’s yirat shamayim?! no one seems to be helping the family, what’s the deal? granted, i’ve not yet finished it, but it’s pretty incredible how alone the father and mother seem to be in such a “Jewish” environment that one would expect to be supportive. I mean the Rabbi, if I understood the interaction accurately, was so blase: “You are supposed to sit shiva now.” Not to have lashon hora, but I was shocked.

  13. Yaakov

    9/17/2009 at 10:06 pm

    So let me get this straight. The Jewish Agency i.e. the state of Israel. Is in an uproar because the Satmars are doing exactaly what they(Israel) did to the the Yemenites when they made Aliyah in mass. Taking children, destroying their Sephardic heriitage. etc.

  14. norman

    7/26/2011 at 2:30 am

    I have this feeling that if they would of been a “heimishe” family they would of had their children back a long while ago, but now that they moved to Israel there is a concern that they will become “tziyonim” so their clout is used to manipulate the system.

    just a thought.

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