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Queens College remembers a forgotten Jewish tribe

Whenever the question of "Who is a Jew?" is debated, seldom does Arab ancestry enter into the discussion. Yet one of the oldest "lost tribes" from Judea are the Jews of Yemen.

The Queens College Center for Jewish Studies devoted a full-day conference to the history of this most overlooked tribe of Jews, on its campus Sunday titled "On Eagles' Wings: The Dynamic Culture of Yemenite Jews."

Throughout the day, talks were given on their history, struggles, culture and heritage. A room containing a variety of traditional dress styles and ornamentations worn by Yemenite Jews was on view at anytime during the day.

The Yemenite Jews have a culture believed to date back to the building of the First Temple. Emigrating 2,500 years ago from Israel with the Queen of Sheba, they settled in Southern Arabia in what is now Yemen, a country comprised of predominantly Arabic Muslims. The country is situated at the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, overlooking the Gulf of Aden.

From 1839 to 1967, Yemen was a British Colony. Jews were tolerated by Muslims, but were warned to "know their place."

Following a mass exodus to Israel, organized by an international cadre of concerned Jews, in a mobilization called Operation Esther in the late 1980s and early '90s, some 40,000 Yemenite Jews were airlifted out of the country. Today only about a fifth of Yemenite Jews still live in Yemen.

Prof. Ephraim Isaac, director of the Institute of Semitic Studies at Princeton, described the Jewish community of Yemen, and compared some of the differences s between European Jews and Yemenite Jews in dress, culture, and even approaches to the Torah.

Native Yemenite music was performed, and an art exhibit was on display in the school. cafeteria.

During another session, Prof. Reuben Aharoni of Ohio State University presented a slide show showing attacks on Yemenite Jews' places of worship in Yemen.

That nearly 500 people attended this first conference on Yemenite Jewry was "very encouraging," said Prof. Nitza Druyan of Hofstra University, co-chair of the conference.

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