The Zidani family
Yizyeh Zidani (32), Eli (48) and Hodaya Yatom (25), Shoshanna (28), Moshe (21) and Hodaya Zidani (22). Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Tomer Appelbaum
Hadar and Rotem Mininberg, 21. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

Yizyeh Zidani (32), Eli (48) and Hodaya Yatom (25), Shoshanna (28), Moshe (21) and Hodaya Zidani (22); arriving from Yemen.

Shalom, what have you brought with you?

Moshe: In these boxes we brought a special oven of the Yemenites, a taboun oven; stools that you sit on while preparing khat and then also while chewing it; and blankets from Yemen.

It looks as though you are immigrating to Israel.

Moshe: Correct, we came from Sana’a.

You have excellent Hebrew for a new immigrant.

Because there was already a period when we lived in Israel; in 2000, I also learned how to be a butcher here. I am a ritual slaughterer in Sana’a: sheep, calves, everything.

But you didn’t stay here.

After a year I returned to Yemen with my brothers. But my sisters, Shoshanna and Hodaya, live here. They came to the airport with their husbands.

Why didn’t you stay?

Yihyeh: At that time they still had it good there, so they went back. But not afterward. The whole mess with Al-Qaida started. That was the uncle’s fate.

Moshe: Things are much better here. My father was murdered not long ago.

My condolences. Was your father the one who was murdered in the Sana’a market in May?

Yes. We lived in Sana’a for a few years. My father would go to the market and wander around freely. He knew the sellers and he knew Arabs there, and suddenly an Arab came up to him and stabbed him.

Was it someone he knew?

I don’t know who it was.

Do you know why he was murdered?

Because he is a Jew, and Jews are hated.

Do you have more family in Yemen?

Yes. My brothers are still there, and also my cousin. We hope to bring them to Israel, too.

Where is your mother?

My mother lives here, in Be’er Sheva.

Shoshanna: I immigrated 13 years ago, after I met Yihyeh and we were married.

Yihyeh: I immigrated in 1993. I came to Israel, did army service and then went to Yemen, where I met my wife and asked her parents for her hand.

Moshe: We weren’t living in Sana’a then. We lived in northern Yemen. We only moved to Sana’a a few years ago.

Why did you move to Sana’a?

Yihyeh: They moved after all that Al-Qaida chaos started in 2001. They were harassed. They got letters, and people told them to leave before something bad happened. Fortunately for them, the president of Yemen intervened and helped. He smuggled them to Sana’a and sent aid.

Was the situation in Sana’a better?

The situation for Jews in Sana’a was better a few years ago. But two years ago, when I visited there, it was already pretty scary. Right now, things are bad everywhere there. I am not just talking about the Jews. They are persecuting all the foreigners − Germans, Americans. At least now they are allowing the Jews to leave. They know where we are going and the authorities want us to leave. Fifteen years ago, it was very hard to get out.

Moshe: There are not many Jews in Yemen now. But things are tough for the Jews, for the Arabs and for the government, too. It’s hard to cope with the extremists.

Where are you going now?

Shoshanna: They are going to an absorption center in Be’er Sheva. They have an apartment there, provided by the Jewish Agency − like all new immigrants receive − until they get settled. With God’s help we will find them an apartment in Rehovot, close to us. The main thing is that we will be celebrating the holiday together.

Eli: All the families will be there. True-blue Yemenites, with genuine Yemenite food. It’ll be fun. You should come.

Have a happy holiday. I hope everything works out for you in Israel.

Moshe: We already feel more secure.

Yihyeh: I only hope his brothers get here. We have a few problems here, too, but we are coping, for good and for ill. At least everyone is a Jew.

Shoshanna: And maybe when they come, we will go on “The Race to the Million” and win apartments [laughs].


Hadar and Rotem Mininberg, 21, students from Givat Shaul; flying to Belgium

Sorry for the chutzpah, but can I ask how old you girls are?

Rotem and Hadar: You can. We are 21. People always think we are younger.

I thought you were high-school students. Snafu, sorry. Still, would you like to tell me where you’re flying to?

Rotem and Hadar: To Belgium. Our parents live there.

And where do you live?

Rotem and Hadar: We’re in Israel. We’re students at Bar-Ilan [University].

Do you always talk together at the same time?

Rotem and Hadar: No.

Let’s try something else. Are you both studying the same subject?

Rotem: Life sciences.

Together: We just finished the exams.

Hadar: Social sciences.

Rotem: But at least we had courses in Judaism together.

Great, we are making progress. And how come you don’t have any sort of accent?

Rotem: We were born and raised in Israel until the age of 8. Then we went to Antwerp with our parents. All those years we spoke Hebrew and went to a Jewish school.

Where are your parents now?

Rotem: They are there [in Belgium], but they come to visit a lot.

Hadar: But our whole family is in Israel.

Did you have good memories from Israel?

Rotem: I don’t remember a thing.

Hadar: I only remember that I had fun here and didn’t want to leave. But our parents said they wanted to go, and when you’re 8 years old and your parents leave, you leave too.

Together: We always wanted to come back to Israel. It’s the best here. We love Israel.

What do you love in particular?

Hadar: I love the hot weather.

Rotem: Only the humidity is a bit problematic.

Will you immigrate?

Together: We haven’t made a final decision on that yet.

How was the move to Belgium?

Together: It was very hard.

Do they speak French there? That’s a tough language.

Rotem: The language was actually less of a hardship.

Hadar: Anyway, we learned Flemish. You don’t learn French until the fifth grade. We had a lot of private tutors, and it’s not so hard to learn a new language in the second grade.

Rotem: The difficulty was with the differences in culture and mentality. The Belgians are more closed and colder. Just like the weather.

Did it help that you are twins and were together?

Together: Wherever we go, it’s always our good fortune that we are together.

You know, I always wanted a twin sister. Are you good friends?

Together: Best friends.

Don’t you fight?

Together: We fight all the time.

Hadar: But we make up within a minute or two.

Who is the good twin and who is the bad one?

Hadar: She is the stubborn one and I am the one who gives in.

Rotem: No way!

Hadar: That’s how it is. You are more stubborn.

Rotem: That’s not a nice thing to say.

Rotem, don’t be stubborn.

Hadar: Anyway, it’s not an extreme difference.

How are things in Israel in the meantime?

Rotem: It was a lot easier coming back, because here everyone gets excited and they ask questions. Abroad, people don’t like to hear that you are not a local. But here in Israel, people are very excited to hear that you are from abroad. Over there, you don’t start saying right off that you are Jewish and from Israel − there are some people there who are not so much for us.

Are you religious?

Hadar: We are secular. We registered for a few universities, and on the open day we felt most at home in Bar-Ilan. It’s a relatively small university, where you can walk across the whole campus. The Tel Aviv University campus looked huge. But we visit Tel Aviv to go out.

Do people mix you up at university?

Hadar: Yes, of course. We are not all that identical when we are together, but people who meet us separately always get mixed up.

Rotem: People say to me, “Hadar, we saw you yesterday and called out to you, but you didn’t answer. Why?” So I explain that it was me.

Well, today you are also dressed similarly.

Rotem: Usually we don’t dress alike. Not on the same day, for sure.

Hadar: But we sometimes do our hair the same way.

Do you do it on purpose? Because I feel like I’m in that Erich Kastner book “Double Ora.”

Hadar: We usually coordinate the opposite − not to wear the same thing. When we were little, we did it on purpose.

What will you do in Belgium?

Rotem: We will celebrate our birthday with dad and mom − she is also a twin.

What will you buy each other for a present?

Rotem: We don’t buy for each other, people bring us presents. That’s what I hate about being a twin: People bring you a joint present and you have to share.