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Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues 8 (2004) 25-49

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Looking Forward and Backward:

Modern and Traditional Gender Patterns among Yemenite Immigrant Women in a Moshav


Immigration of Jews from Yemen to Palestine increased during the early twentieth century. The Yemenites came to escape economic and political persecution under Turkish rule (which lasted in Yemen until after World War I) as well as persecution by local Moslems. They were particularly influenced by Jewish emissaries who came to Yemen on behalf of the Zionist Federation (notably Shmuel Yavni'eli in 1911), by religious sentiment, and by news of the Balfour Declaration in 1917.1 The first immigration wave (1881-1904) came from the capital city, Sana'a, and its environs, and the majority of the new arrivals settled in cities, mainly Jerusalem and Jaffa.2 Most of those who came in the second wave (1904-1914), on the other hand, came from rural areas in the north and south of Yemen. They established agricultural communities near the big cities, where they worked as hired farm hands under poor conditions, for low pay.3

After World War I, immigrants continued to arrive and to settle in the towns, especially Tel-Aviv, and in neighborhoods near the old and new agricultural settlements.4 Despite the continuous increase in the number of Yemenite immigrants and their contribution to the establishment of Jewish agricultural settlements in Palestine, the Zionist settlement institutions—the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund (JNF)—made no attempt to establish independent agricultural settlements for them, even when requests were put to them by representatives of the Yemenite community.5 The Jewish leadership did not believe [End Page 25] that the Yemenites could become independent farmers and apply the socialist principles practiced in most of the settlements established by the Zionist movement. Rather, they viewed them on a par with Arab hired farm hands.6

The Yemenite representatives in the socialist-oriented General Federation of Labor in Israel (the Histadrut) were also disappointed by the way their community was treated, and particularly by their failure to obtain settlement rights for Yemenite immigrants. In 1923, they seceded from the Histadrut and founded an independent organization, the Yemenite Federation in Palestine (Hitahadut Hateimanim).7

The Establishment of Ravid

After a prolonged conflict, the Jewish settlement authorities finally acceded to the demands of the Yemenite Federation and helped it establish three agricultural settlements within the moshav ovdim framework, a form of socio-agricultural settlement in which each family is allotted a household and a plot of land. Ravid, founded in 1933 in the center of Palestine, north of Tel-Aviv, was the largest of these settlements and the only one that did not later become an urban neighborhood.

The fifty founding families of Ravid had come to Palestine in the 1920s and early 1930s and settled in different parts of the country. They belonged to three different groups, each hailing from a different area of origin in Yemen: the capital, Sana'a, and its environs; the Sharab district; and the Ch'ala district. The Sharab group was the largest, but it formed a bloc with the Ch'ala group, whose members had similar customs. Most of the settlers in Ravid were politically and ideologically affiliated with the Yemenite Federation.

A few of the settlers had attended elementary schools in Palestine, participated in youth movements, and been socialized to the ideology of the moshav ovdim. Younger, more "modern," and less religious than most of the founders of Ravid, they had internalized the values both of Yemenite tradition and of the Jewish settlement movement and so could serve as leaders and catalysts of change in their new framework.

As was the case with other new moshavim, the founders of Ravid were organized before moving to the settlement, as members of the Shabazi Organization of Yemenite settlers, which had been established by the Yemenite Federation and was headed by the Federation's vice president, Rabbi Abraham...


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