Set on the edge of the historic and picturesque neighborhood of Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv is a small treasure of a museum that charts the history of a little-known Jewish community. The Aden Jewish Heritage Museum tells the fascinating story of the Jewish community that once lived in the port city of Aden.
Aden is situated at the tip of what is now modern-day Yemen. The Jewish community of Aden was a distinct one, with its own way of life and unique customs.
Letters discovered in the Cairo Geniza attest to a Jewish community in Aden as far back as the eleventh century. The city declined under the Ottoman Empire due to disputes with the Portuguese regarding shipping routes. By the time Aden became a British colony in 1839 it was little more than a small fishing village numbering about 550 people, half of which were Jews.
As part of the British Indian Empire, the protectorate of Aden began to thrive as a shipping hub and duty-free port. As the gateway from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East to India, the Far East and Australia, it was situated at a very strategic point. Even more so when thirty years later, in 1869, the Suez Canal was opened.
The Jewish community expanded, due to natural growth as well as immigration from the surrounding countries including Yemen, India, Iraq and the neighboring port city of Mocha.
For the Jewish community, the city now provided many commercial opportunities. It was a relatively safe environment where, for more than a century, they were able to live a vibrant Jewish life free from persecution.
Unfortunately, the political climate changed in 1947 with the establishment of the State of Israel. The local Arab population erupted in three days of violent rioting, the destruction of many homes, synagogues, schools and businesses, and the murder of 87 Jews. After this, many felt it was no longer safe to remain in Aden and left for Israel. A smaller Jewish community, however, continued until 1967. With Britain’s withdrawal from the area, the remaining Jews moved to London or Israel.
Although not a single Jew still resides in Aden, the community continues in Israel and London, and its customs and heritage are being passed on to the next generations.
The Aden Jewish Heritage Museum is situated on the ground floor of Bet Knesset Kol Yehuda built on land purchased by Yehuda Menachem Messa, community leader in Aden during the early 1920s. His son, who settled in Israel, built the shul in 1938.
Dani Goldsmith and his cousin Uriel Messa (both descendants of Yehuda Menachem Messa) set the museum up five years ago answering the need to record memories before they are forgotten. The museum chronicles the life of the Jews of Aden under the British from 1839 to 1967, with photographs of the Jewish quarter; school and wedding photos; religious artifacts including a very rare Torah crown; and objects from homes and businesses of the time. There is also rare film footage of the largest of the seven synagogues that existed in Aden, which had seating for a thousand people. Bet Knesset Kol Yehuda is in use every day and can be a part of your museum visit.
The Aden Jewish Heritage Museum is situated at 5 Rechov Lilienblum, Tel Aviv.
It is open Monday – Thursday 10.00 AM
– 2.00 PM, Friday 9.00 AM – 1.00 PM. For further information: Facebook “Aden Jewish Heritage Museum”.