Background: The country of Yemen is situated in the Southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula. The Jews of Yemen were considered as serfs without any rights, the lowest rung on the social ladder. The Jews were poor and persecuted under Moslem rule.
When the leader of Yemen was the Imam Yahya, Jews were forbidden to sell their property and legally leave Yemen. But in 1948 his son became the ruler and was more lenient with the Jews. Between June 1949 and June 1950 Israel launched “Operation Magic Carpet.” Israel flew over 45,000 Yemenite Jews into Israel during this period. The Yemenite Jews saw the establishment of the State of Israel as an historic moment and as a sign from Hashem that it was the time to return to Israel. (We, of course, believe this also, but American Jewry is less responsive than Yemenite Jewry.)
Coming to Israel was not easy for the Yemenite Jews who were very religious and whose culture was quite different from that of the modern Western way of life. Due to their isolation in Yemen and exclusion from non-Jewish culture, they preserved the Jewish way of life from ancient times. This applies to their dress, speech, pronunciation of Hebrew words, art, and music. Yemenite song and customs have won a special place in modern Israeli culture.
Game 1: Gobbly-Gook
Select one chanich. Give the Chanich a topic to “teach” to the other chanichim. BUT the chanich must make up a language and teach the kvutza in that language.
Can the chanich manage to make himself understood? Are the other chanichim tolerant or do they lose patience quickly? Do the chanichim who catch on attempt to explain the topic to the other chanichim?
Game 2: Foreign Objects
Bring a bag full of normal household items, or obscure objects. Let each chanich pick an item. They should pretend they have never seen that object before and think of a creative name and purpose for their object. Have each chanich present his object and explanation to the kvutza.
Another way to play this game is to pick two chanichim. Give them one object. They must alternate coming up with ways to use their object, or prop, in different ways (ie. Pretending it’s a phone, using it as an earring, etc.)
Game 3: Baseball
Choose one chanich to be it. He should be someone who does not know how to play baseball, or who can pretend he doesn’t. All the other chanichim are going to teach him to play baseball, without talking. This should turn out to be extremely difficult.
Explanation: These games all deal with the difficulty of learning a new language and fitting into a strange culture. Feel free to be creative and think of other similar games. We learnt about the differences between Ashkenaz and Sefardi Jews, and how it was difficult for them to adapt to each other’s customs. This applies even more to the Yemenite and Ethiopian Jews. One quick example is the size of a Yemenite Etrog: about the size of a regular melon. It has to be held with two hands practically. Compare this to the story of Migdal Bavel – it that situation, people had to separate because they could not understand each other. In this case, the opposite is happening.
This is why people often used to prepare for their aliyot by learning Hebrew, learning how to farm, etc. In fact, Bnei Akiva of North America used to have a program like this, in which people in the same shevet would move together to a farm in New Jersey where they would learn to be farmers. After a couple of years, the entire group would make Aliya together as a “garin” to Israel and either join a kibbutz together or found their own kibbutz.
Game 4: Not really so much of a game, but everyone can go around the circle and say something that they can do to prepare for moving to Israel. This concept can be incorporated into a game: freeze tag, but if you yell out one of these things, you can’t get tagged. Or a circle-switching game, where everyone has one of these things, and the person in the middle yells out two of them and then tries to get the seat of one of the people who gets up. I think this is an important thing to do, as it will get the kids thinking in a concrete way about preparing for Aliya.