United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Women’s Cabinet recently hosted Arielle Di Porto from the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). Di Porto gave a stirring presentation about JAFI’s important work of rescuing Jews throughout the world.
Director of the Aliyah division of JAFI’s unit for Aliyah, Absorption & Special Operations, Di Porto is responsible for aliyah—Jewish immigration to Israel— from around the world, with emphasis on aliyah from France, and clandestine operations in Middle East, North Africa, and South American countries.
Of special concern to Di Porto’s department is the current risk to the Jewish community of 20,000 who are in Iran, as well as the remaining Jewish communities in Yemen, Syria, Venezuela, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. A great concern also exists for the Jewish community in France who has come under increased anti-Semitic threats and terrorist attacks in recent years. As Di Porto shared, “there are suburbs of Paris today where you cannot enter without serious risk of attack if you are a Jew.”
In her nearly two-hour presentation, Di Porto spoke about assisting and monitoring at-risk Jewish communities, the families she has saved, and how she feels a personal connection to each person she interacts with. “It’s not work, it is a mission,” she said. “At the end of the day, you feel like you’ve done something special… what we’re doing is real life.”
The work of Di Porto and her team often cannot be shared because of the critical dangers Jews face when fleeing conflict-riddled areas. In rare exceptions, those left with no choice but to flee share the details of their rescue. One such story was originally told in the article, A family reunion as some of Yemen’s last Jews arrive in Israel, published March 26, 2016 by the Los Angeles Times.
Zion Dahari was just 14 years old when he left his home country of Yemen—not certain he would ever see his family again. Four years later, Dahari was reunited with 17 of his relatives—including his parents and six brothers and sisters. The family was covertly airlifted out of Yemen and arrived in Israel after stops in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, when they were met by Dahari, who says, “I found out they were arriving in Israel at the last minute. I dropped my study books, caught the bus and ran.”
A mission known as Magic Carpet brought 49,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel from 1948 to 1950 with more arriving throughout the decades. To-date, only 50 Jews remain in Yemen, refusing to leave, living on a compound just outside of the U.S. Embassy.
The mission that reunited the family was the last in a long campaign of clandestine rescues, organized by the U.S. State Department and JAFI to rescue Jews from Yemen, which has been ravaged by civil war.
On the ground in Israel, JAFI provides absorption programs for new immigrants to help with the transition, including learning Hebrew, understanding Israeli culture, socializing and making friends, and obtaining training to enter the workforce. As part of one absorption program, Dahari’s family will spend a year in Beersheba at an immigrant facility and will then receive financial aid to purchase a small home and start a new life.
Di Porto thanked the Women’s Cabinet and UJFT for the important role they play in making her work possible through the Federation’s Annual Campaign.
The Jewish Agency for Israel was established in 1929 as the pre-state government of Israel and today maintains its mandate from the government to bring, by choice or by rescue, and settle Jews from around the world in Israel. JAFI has a presence in every continent and country where Jews live and has been an important overseas partner to the Jewish Federations’ efforts to improve the lives of Jews everywhere. The Jewish Federation of North America provides JAFI with more than $100 million annually. In 2017, UJFT provided more than $210,000 from the Annual Campaign to support JAFI’s work in saving Jewish lives, strengthening immigrant communities in Israel, and empowering religious diversity in Israel.