Tag Archives: Yemenite Jews

Jew of the Week: Bracha Qafih

Rabbanit Qafih

Rabbanit Qafih

Bracha Qafih (1922-2013) was born in Yemen to a traditional Jewish family. To save a young orphan boy from being taken away by the Muslim authorities, she was married to him at the age of just 11. The boy grew up to be Rabbi Yosef Qafih, better known as Rabbi Kapach, one of the greatest Yeminite Jewish religious leaders, and a judge on Israel’s Rabbinical Supreme Court. Rabbanit Qafih had three kids by the time she was 18, and immigrated to Israel soon after with her family. Settling in Jerusalem, she opened up her own embroidery business, which grew quickly to employ over 50 women. Qafih then devoted her time to charity work. Each holiday, she would organize food packages for the impoverished of the city, distributing them from her own home with the help of student volunteers. Eventually, she ran a food bank that provided regular sustenance to over 5000 people, an endeavour she oversaw for over 50 years, often putting herself in personal debt. She also ran a gmach for wedding gowns, where poor families could borrow wedding dresses for free, and organized a summer camp for disadvantaged children. She made sure that orphans could have proper bar mitzvahs, and advised countless people in need, including prostitutes and drug addicts, many of which credit her with helping them overcome their challenges. Her inspiration was her grandfather, who took her with him to distribute food to the poor in Yemen from the time that she was just 6 years old. Rabbanit Qafih continued her charity work into her old age, despite her poor health. She was known to already be preparing meals by four in the morning. Among many other decorations, in 1999, Rabbanit Qafih was awarded the Israel Prize for her immeasurable contributions to charity and Israeli society at large, where many affectionately referred to her as their grandmother.

Yom Kippur Begins Tonight! Gmar Chatima Tova to Everyone

Words of the Week

It’s not charity. It’s my responsibility.
– Rabbanit Bracha Qafih

Jew of the Week: Yehoshua Sofer

The Father of Israeli Hip Hop – and Hebrew Martial ArtsĀ 

Nigel Wilson, aka Yehoshua Sofer

Nigel Wilson, aka Yehoshua Sofer

Nigel Wilson (b. 1958) was born in Jamaica to a Chasidic family, and grew up in Los Angeles. There, he fervently studied the Korean martial arts of Tang Soo Do and Kuk Sool Won, earning black belts in each before working as a martial arts trainer and bodyguard. At the same time, he took a great interest in LA’s hip hop scene. In 1989, Wilson moved to Israel and became a rap artist himself, under the stage name Nigel Ha’Admor. His songs gave rise to a new form of “street Hebrew”, and inspired later famous Israeli rappers like Subliminal and Hadag Nahash, which is why some have described Wilson as the “father of Israeli hip hop”. By 2000, his rapping days were behind him, and Wilson went back to martial arts, heading a Korean martial arts school in Jerusalem for a couple of years before opening his own schools in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. These schools, however, were quite different, teaching a new martial arts style that Wilson, now known as Yehoshua Sofer, called Abir Qesheth. Hebrew for “Bow Warrior”, Sofer claimed that this was an ancient Israelite martial art going back to at least the time of King David, and passed down in secret from generation to generation by a small group of grandmasters. He claimed to have received this wisdom from his own father, tracing it back through their Yemenite Jewish roots, as the secluded Jews in Yemen were the last to carry on the Abir tradition. Not surprisingly, many scoff at Sofer’s claims, especially in light of his background in the entertainment industry. However, researchers have indeed found a great deal of supporting evidence for his claims, and Abir has grown tremendously in popularity. Today, it is a complete fighting system with unique, practical self-defense tactics based on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. More significantly, Abir incorporates spiritual teachings, Jewish prayer, and Torah study, making it truly one-of-a-kind. Before all else, Sofer’s greatest vision is to end the age-old stereotype of the “weak diaspora Jew” and bring back the old spirit of the ancient Hebrew warrior.

Words of the Week

Impossible is a word found only in the dictionary of fools.
– Napoleon Bonaparte

Jew of the Week: Ofra Haza

Ofra Haza

Ofra Haza

Bat-Sheva Ofra Haza (1957-2000) was born in Tel-Aviv to Yemenite Jewish parents, the youngest of nine children. Her talent was first discovered in her youth when she performed with a small theatre troupe. After her military service was complete, Haza officially began her musical career. Her first album quickly went gold, as did her two follow-up albums. In 1983, she was runner-up at the Eurovision Contest, skyrocketing her fame, and giving her next two albums platinum status. She was voted Israel’s “Female Vocalist of the Year” four times in a row. By the late 80s, her fame had spread internationally, particularly for her ‘Yemenite Songs’ album, and its single “Im Nin’alu” (written by 17th-century Rabbi Shalom Shabazi). Her unique mix of Israeli, Arabic, and traditional Jewish music soon topped the Eurochart, and she was even nominated for a Grammy in 1992. Haza collaborated and performed alongside popular artists like Paula Abdul, Michael Jackson, Sarah Brightman, and Iggy Pop, and many others have done covers of her songs, including Madonna and Led Zeppelin. She also voiced Moses’ mother Yocheved in The Prince of Egypt, and sang the hit song from the movie, ‘Deliver Us’, in 17 languages. (It is said that the film artists were so struck by Haza’s beauty that they decided to sketch the character Yocheved to look like her.) Haza also sang on the soundtracks of at least seven other movies. All in all, she brought forth an incredible 24 solo albums. Sadly, Haza died fifteen years ago this week, at just 42 years of age, while in the midst of working on another album. It was later revealed that the likely cause was AIDS-related, which many believed she contracted from her husband. (Her husband said it was from a blood transfusion during a miscarriage, though he himself was found dead shortly after, possibly from a drug overdose). Beloved by Israelis and fans around the world, her music continues to inspire, and she is still often described as the “Madonna of the East”. Tel-Aviv’s Gan Ofra park is named in her honour.

Words of the Week

I don’t know what I would have done without believing in God. His support gives me power and energy to continue to be optimistic, to smile, not to be depressed. Sometimes, if things are not going so well, I don’t cry. I say maybe it’s meant to be…
– Ofra Haza