Connect with us


The mysterious disappearance of Yemenite children in Israel is the focus of a new play



(New York Jewish Week) — Shortly after the State of Israel was founded, Shanit Keter-Schwartz was born on a dirt floor, in a hut made of aluminum siding outside the burgeoning town of Tel Aviv. She was the second of six children, the daughter of Yemenite Jews who had recently immigrated to the new country. They’d faced discrimination and violence in their country of origin, so when Jewish emissaries turned up in 1949 to bring 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel as a part of “Operation Flying Carpet,” they were all in.

Unfortunately, Keter-Schwartz’s upbringing in Israel was no magic carpet ride. “[Yemenite Jews] were seen as savages, primitive, inferior in the eyes of the Ashkenazi Jews,” Keter-Schwartz recalled in an interview with the New York Jewish Week. “They were not sophisticated or educated. It was a cultural domination, a collective trauma in Israel. They faced war, hunger, poverty, and living in very harsh conditions.”

The worst, though, wasn’t near-starvation due to rationing, or the harsh conditions of the shanty towns that these new immigrants were placed in, or the way European children wrinkled their nose at her and called her smelly. No, the worst was when the government stole her sister, Sarah, whom Keter-Schwartz never saw again.

In what has become known as the Yemenite Children Affair, more than 1,000 children of Yemenite, Mizrahi and Balkan descent were separated from their children during the first decade of Israel’s existence. The families and their advocates have long insisted, over denials by officials, that the children were taken from their families by the Ashkenazi government during the first decade of Israel’s existence. More often than not, parents were told their children had died when they had, in fact, been given to families of European descent for adoption, according to Amram Association, one of several organizations dedicated to documenting these abductions and advocating for victims’ families.

Now, Keter-Schwartz — a writer and performer who lives in Los Angeles, and a mother to two grown daughters —  has brought to life her family’s story and her search for her missing sister in the form of a one-woman show. Premiering on Thursday at New York City Center, and running through May 15, “Daughter of the Wicked” chronicles her family’s journey from the  Yemenite ma’abarot (refugee camps) to shikunim (government housing projects), where they lived in a tiny two-room apartment amid a melting pot of Jewish immigrants who were often at odds with one another.

“It is overcrowded, and the people who live here come from many different places. In their countries they were… respected by their communities,” she says in the show, which is named after one of the many Yemenite curses her mother would hurl at her when she’d done something wrong. “But here [in Israel] they are forced into stereotypes.”

“Israel had no choice but to bring the Jews from the Arab countries because the European Jews population had been greatly diminished after the Holocaust, but they didn’t want us,” Keter-Schwartz told the New York Jewish Week. “They took control of our lives, tried to assimilate us, wanted the whole country to be secular and uniform. They made all the decisions for us.”

One such “decision” made by the government, she said, was to remove her oldest brother, Yossi, from the family home to “re-educate” him at an Ashkenazi kibbutz. It worked: Yossi returned as a proud secular farmer, disdainful and ashamed of his spiritualist, religious family and their traditional ways.

The disappearance of her baby sister, Sarah, inspired Keter-Schwartz’s play, which is also informed by the kabbalistic teachings of her father. (Russ Rowland)

In the case of Keter-Schwartz’s sister, the abduction occurred directly after she was born. “When my father went to the hospital to pick up the twins, my siblings, he returned only with David. They told him that the girl, Sarah, was sick, and he should come back the following day. But when he came back, they told him that she had died,” Keter-Schwartz said. “Being naive, he didn’t question this. He didn’t ask to see a death certificate. He didn’t even know [a certificate] existed. He didn’t demand to see her body, didn’t think to bury her or give her funeral rites. He never suspected for a minute they could deceive him.”

This story, and others, is conveyed in “Daughter of the Wicked” through a series of monologues, each tied to an idea from Kabbalah,the Jewish mystical tradition. Keter-Schwartz defines each concept — like ahava (love), metsuka (hardship), busha (shame) — then tells a personal story that relates to the topic.

With this framework, Keter-Schwartz pays homage to her father, a spiritualist rabbi who spent his days poring over holy texts and divining the true meaning of the universe. She reads from his writings — which were collected and published towards the end of his life as a book, “Nachash HaNechoshet” — detailing her complex relationship to a man who was both an inspiration and, at times, inscrutable to all around him.

“The play is set in a hotel room, while I’m waiting for my sister to show up,” Keter-Schwartz explains. “As I wait, I tell my life. Behind me, on three screens, there’s archival footage from the 1950s that I got from Steven Spielberg’s archive. That footage tells the story, too, and so does the music.” The accompanying music, which transitions the audience from segment to segment, was written by Israeli composer Lilo Fedida, using traditional Yemenite melodies and instruments.

“We lived with this [tragedy] all my childhood, and I’ve been wondering all these years about my missing sister,” said Keter-Schwartz. “If I see her on the street, will I recognize her? Where does she live? Is she happy? I felt guilty that I never really tried to find her, I was so busy with my own life. But now I need to know.”

As a young woman, Keter-Schwartz said she went to great lengths to distance herself from her family’s tragedies. She lived in Amsterdam, London and New York, finally finding her footing in Los Angeles. She changed her name — from Shoshana to Shanit — and declared herself a new person in a new land. It was only when she lost all but one of her siblings, as well as both parents, that she felt an urge to revisit the past. When her last surviving sibling got so ill he almost died, she swore to search for Sarah. Initially, the idea was just to hire a private investigator to try to locate her. During her search, though, she began to feel an urge to share her story.

“I’d never written a play, so it took me two years [working] with coaches,” says Keter-Schwartz. “I’ve been an actress all my life, I’ve edited other people’s scripts, I produced movies, but to actually write — ha! I had amazing coaches. I’m especially grateful to Yigal Chatzor, the Israeli playwright. He brought the Israeli spice and the humor, which is wonderful now because now the play is balanced. It’s heart-wrenching and it’s hysterical. It’s everything, you know.”

The Yemenite Children Affair has never been formally confirmed by the state of Israel, which maintains the position that most of the babies died of malaria or malnutrition and were not, as some have proposed, sold to Ashkenazi families in exchange for donations to the young country. Several government-led commissions have claimed that there was no official wrongdoing, but testimonies continue to emerge that suggest otherwise. According to a 2016 article in Yediot Ahronot, a prominent Israeli news source, the government has sealed the official records of these disappearances until 2071, despite ongoing demonstrations and demands for actions.

In 2021, the Israeli government authorized tens of millions of dollars in reparations to families whose children disappeared while in government care. Nonetheless, no official admission of guilt or apology has been issued, a fact which caused many affected families to reject the plan, calling it “hush money.” Only a fraction of the affected families are eligible for these payments and, according to recent reporting, very few have claimed the money. Less than 1% of the allocated funds have been distributed thus far.

For  Keter-Schwartz, no amount of money could compensate for the loss of her sister. She’s more interested in creating connections with others who lost family members and bringing awareness to this chapter in Israeli history. “Going back to my roots, revisiting the past, is an act of forgiveness,” Keter-Schwartz said in a statement. “By writing this play, I was able to forgive and accept the past. I hope that when audiences see my play they come to terms with their own history, and that they feel a sense of what it means to be free, and the challenges that confront us in maintaining that freedom.”

That is a major throughline of “Daughter of the Wicked”: Keter-Schwartz does not forsake the country that gave her her identity and childhood; rather, she insists on loving it while demanding recognition of past wrongs. Towards the end of her show, Keter Ashkenazi raises both arms to the sky and screams at those who wronged her: “My country! I blame you, shame on you for forsaking us, shame on you!”

But then, she lowers her arms and says, voice cracking with heartbreak: “I love you, I blame you, I love you. My country, I love you.”

The post The mysterious disappearance of Yemenite children in Israel is the focus of a new play appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

Continue Reading

Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

Continue Reading


Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News