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Yemenite Heritage Center and Weizmann House in Rehovot

The Yemenite Heritage Center

 

The aim of this interesting museum is the study and preservation of the unique heritage of Yemenite Jewry.

 

A fascinating and enlightening movie is shown in the auditorium about the origins and immigrations of the Yemenite community to Israel and there are photographs, displays of clothing and art treasure of their jewelry.

DirectionsEnter “Yemenite Heritage Center” and click on The Yemenite Heritage Center, Abarbanel Street, Rehovot.”

Admission: Hours are 9.00 to 5.00 pm Sunday to Thursday, Tuesday 9.00 to 1.00 pm and 4.00 to 7.00 pm. It is closed on Friday and Shabbat. Admission is 30 NIS, 25 NIS for seniors and 10 NIS for children. A tour can be arranged for a minimum of 20 people, and can also be in English. There is a cafeteria. Their phone number is 073 394 6150.

Public transport: Enter “Yemenite Heritage Center” into Moovit. There are adequate buses to and from the Rehovot bus station.

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The travails of the Yemenite Jews in Israel

 

There was individual Jewish immigration from Yemen for many years, but the first organized wave was in 1881 with the immigration of 200 Yemenite Jews. By 1915 about 10% of the community had left for Palestine. A major airlift beginning in 1949, Operation Magic Carpet, brought 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel, which was almost the entire remaining Jewish community.

 

The movie shown does mention that the Yemenite immigrants experienced difficulties during their immigrations, but does not elaborate on this, although they can certainly be discussed during group tours. However, without discussion of the absorption issues faced by the immigrants the story of their immigration is only half complete.

 

For example, when the Yemenite Jews arrived in Jerusalem in the 1880s, they were not welcomed into the Old City and were forced to live in caves in the nearby village of Silwan. They were finally supported by evangelical Christians who appreciated the messianic implications of this Yemenite immigration. If one wishes to be generous, one could say that the Jews of the Old City could not place these simple, impoverished Jews with different customs and who looked more like Arabs than Europeans into their image of what Jews should be like. If one did not wish to be so generous one could say that the Jews of the Old City were not willing to share their limited resources and charitable contributions with these newcomers.

 

During the 1900s, they were also often treated poorly. A group living in the moshava Degania Aleph, for example, helped clear the swamps, often with their lives and that of their children from malaria. Yet after many years they were told to leave. The generous explanation is that they were not felt to be suitable material for kibbutz life. A less generous explanation is that they were exploited.

 

Upon their arrival in Israel may Yemenite immigrants were placed in temporary transit camps, which were often overcrowded and lacking in basic amenities. Many were settled in underdeveloped areas or in poorer neighborhoods, which contributed to their socioeconomic challenges. An issue still discussed without resolution is the allegation that Yemenite children were taken from transit camps and hospitals and put up for adoption by Ashkenazi families without the parents’ permission. They often had difficulty in obtaining quality education. The different customs and culture and their language difficulties made it difficult for Yemenite Jews to integrate smoothly into Israeli society. They also arrived in Israel at a time of limited resources and Ashkenazi Jews controlled these resources.

 

On the other hand, these are generalizations and many Yemenites were able to integrate very successfully and make significant contributions to Israeli society. In recent years there have been efforts to address these historical injustices and to promote a greater awareness of Mizrahi Jewish culture. This museum is but one example.

 

This predominantly religious community also had tremendous faith and internal resources that helped them overcome their difficulties. They believed that the airplanes that came to collect them after the pogroms in Yemen following the 1948 War of Independence were truly the “eagles wings” of redemption. This biblical phrase (Exodus 19:4) signifies the miraculous deliverance from Egypt experienced by the Jewish people and the providence and close relationship God has with His nation.  

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Yemenite clothing exhibit

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Scene from the movie shown.

The Weizmann House in the Weizmann Institute of Science

 

A number of key figures stand out in early Zionist history with unique skills that were needed at that particular time. Without them the Zionist vision may never have progressed. Chaim Weitzman was one of these people. He was a people’s person, an expert in networking, who knew how to hone in to the people that really mattered. This ability enabled him to procure the Balfour Declaration from British politicians. His skill as a chemist also laid the basis, together with others, for the underpinnings of the State of Israel as a center of science and technology. A tour of his home, located within the Weitzman Institute, an institute he formed, will enable you to learn about these two aspects of his life's work.

 

Admittedly, a stately home from the 1930’s with its furnishing and family memorabilia will not necessarily enthrall everyone. Women may be a bit more appreciative than men. But the tour begins with an excellent short movie about his work, the photographs in his home are of interest, the architecture of the home is quite special and has its own story, and the gardens and its surroundings are very attractive. If this site does no more than pique your interest in the story of Chaim Weizmann it has succeeded in its mission.

 

His home is now part of the Weizmann Institute. It became a museum in 1978 and underwent further renovations in 1999.

DirectionsEnter into Waze “Weizmann House.”

Admission: The museum is open Sunday to Thursday 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. and is closed Friday and Shabbat. Admission is 30 NIS, 25 NIS for children 5 and up and 25 NIS for seniors and new immigrants. You can wander on the grounds. An audio is available for designated stops in the house. Visits should be coordinated in advance by calling 08-9344499. This is their website.

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About Chaim Weizmann

 

Chaim Weitzman life’s effort was to bring to fruition the Zionist vision of a state for the Jewish people. In his old age, he immigrated to the state he had nurtured, received its first passport, lived in the house he and his wife Vera had planned, and received the thanks due to him when he was elected the first President of the State of Israel. Not many people have been able to actualize such an ambitious vision. However, by this time his health was poor and he was worn out by the decades of political strife he had had to endure, strife that accompanied him his entire political life.  

 

Weizmann had an aptitude for science, and he appreciated that this could be useful for a future Jewish state. He left his hometown in Russia to study chemistry in Germany and it was here that he met his future wife who was then a medical student. He then moved to Switzerland and obtained his Ph.D. magna cum laude at Fribourg, Switzerland in 1990. In 1904 he took up an academic appointment at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, with the thought that it was Britain that could open the door to a Jewish state.

 

His other life was as a Zionist politician. He was the leader of the “Young Zionist” opposition to Theodor Herzl’s idea of a Jewish agricultural settlement in Uganda which Herzl proposed at a Zionist Congress, although Weizmann was overruled. He was elected to its General Council in 1905 but played only a minor role in the Zionist movement until 1921 when he was elected President of the World Zionist Organization.

 

While in the United Kingdom, he befriended influential political leaders. Many were evangelical Christians who were enthused about his vision of a Jewish state, and this included Arthur James Balfour. Balfour was an aristocrat and philosopher who was then foreign secretary in Lloyd George’s government. Working together with the Jewish politician Herbert Samuel and the Nili spy leader Aaron Aaronson, his efforts would result in the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in which Britain favored the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel after Britain and the Allies dismembered the Turkish Empire during World War 1. There was also self-interest here on the part of Britain, since it was looking for potential allies in their new empire. 

 

As the representative of what was in effect a government in exile, he began making political decisions that were not popular with everyone. On ethical grounds he favored the partition of Palestine between Jews and Arabs and supported the recommendation of a British royal inquiry commission to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab sections. In 1947 he accepted the United Nations partition plan, although he insisted that the Negev remain part of Israel. These partition plans never came to fruition as they were rejected by the surrounding Arab states in favor of war.

 

Over time the British reneged on their Balfour Declaration and issued their White Paper restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine. At the 1931 Zionist Congress he was not reelected President of the Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency which he had formed. Nevertheless, he was reelected in 1935. He opposed the activities of the resistance groups such as Lechi and Irgun against British forces in Palestine, and again lost the leadership of the Zionist organization in 1945, this time for good.

 

He believed strongly that the new state should have a strong scientific foundation. Together with Lord Balfour, he inaugurated the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in 1925. He founded the Daniel Sieff Research Institute in Rehovot in 1934 together with friends from England. It was so named to commemorate the Sieff’s family’s son and Weizmann served as its President. In 1949, on Weizmann’s 75th birthday, and in agreement with the Sieff family, its name was changed to the Weizmann Institute of Science.

 

His home in Rehovot was built in 1936 next to the Daniel Sieff Research Institute, although the Weizmann’s did not take up residence until after the Second World War. It was designed by a widely acclaimed Jewish architect Eric Mendelsohn who had fled to Palestine from Germany and who had designed other buildings in Palestine. These included other buildings in the Sieff Institute, the Schocken house and library, Mount Scopus Hadassah Hospital, the first building for the Rambam Hospital and the Anglo-Palestine Bank building.

 

This building in Rehovot has a symmetrical style and was designed to be in harmony with its surroundings. Its design is organized around the central spiral staircase. Contrary to the wishes of Mendelsohn, its furniture and interior decoration were planned by Vera Weizmann, and most of the furniture was imported from England or France.

 

Weizmann was elected the first President of Israel in 1948, and his home then became the official residence of the President. He passed away in 1952 at age 78 and in accord with his wishes was buried in his estate.

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Living room of the Weizmann home

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The first passport issued by the State of Israel to Chaim Weizmann.

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