The Soldier Who was Born in a Muslim Country

The Jewish Community in Yemen

Illustrative Photograph

The Soldier Who was Born in a Muslim Country

“At 18 I decided to enlist” Zion Nahari’s family, which was a part of the Jewish community in Yemen, immigrated to the U.S and later to Israel. When his father returned to visit Yemen, he was murdered for discriminatory reasons. After the death of his father, Zion left his Yeshiva and enlisted in the IAF

Michal Khayut

Private Zion Nahari from Tel-Nof airbase has been through one arduous journey before arriving at his current destination. As opposed to his friends at the unit, Private Nahari heard about Israel and its military from his home in Yemen. Several years after his birth in 1991, Zion’s family left the Jewish community in the Muslim country, citing abundant anti-Semitism as the reason. “Both my uncle and my grandfather were murdered. They lost their lives because they were Jews”, he says. The family immigrated to a Hassidic community in the United States, and several years later moved to Israel. “My father decided that he wants to immigrate to Israel. He dreamed of really living there”, Zion remembers.

After settling in their new home, Zion’s father, who had in the past been married to a different woman, was required to return to Yemen to settle divorce procedures. There, he was murdered for being a Jew. Zion, who had not yet celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the time, vaguely remembers that day. “I didn’t really understand what had happened. But I understood that he had been shot and that he was at the hospital”, he says. “I wanted to talk to him throughout his hospitalization, but that was the last I heard from him”.
“I decided to enlist”
From there, Zion’s familial situation changed: His mother, who had been financially supported by her husband, was forced to find another way to make a living. “The Hassidic community offered us assistance, as long as the children stayed in religious schools”, says Zion. “They bought us an apartment and clothes, and we received pocket money. They supported us in every way possible”.

But Zion, despite the affluence, struggled to accept the path paved for him. “I couldn’t deal with the fact that my life was being built for me. They were directing me to a certain place and I didn’t know exactly where I was going. At 18, I decided that I wanted to enlist”, he says. The Hassidic community balked, but Zion was steadfast. He went to study in a college, and concurrently found a job. “I suddenly had the freedom of choice. I did what I wanted, what I had to, what served me well. The world opened up”.

But his wish to enlist as an equal never dissipated from Zion’s mind, and he decided to wear the IDF uniform. He recounted his decision to his mother, who struggled to accept his choice. “I enlisted anyway. I struggled with the fact that my parents weren’t with me on the day of my enlistment and the graduation ceremony, but I had to accept it”.

Nowadays, Zion serves in a small unit at Tel-Nof airbase, and the smile on his face betrays his contentment. “I’m happy I enlisted”, he says excitedly. “It’s a small unit, like a family. Each and every one of us is cared for. If I hadn’t ended up here, I would’ve fallen apart”.