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Ma'alla Cemetery at Aden, Yemen

Yemen

Summary

Located at the foot of an ancient volcano, the Ma'alla Street cemetery is the most modern of Aden's (عدن ,עדן) four Jewish cemeteries. Located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the cemetery's graves face north toward Jerusalem - an unusual orientation as most Jewish cemeteries in the world face east or west towards Jerusalem. Featuring hundreds of tombs in all shapes and sizes - some with gold inscription plates - the cemetery served the community from 1860 until Aden's last Jews were evacuated by the British in 1967. With no new burials in over four decades, the Ma'alla Street cemetery stands as a silent testament to a once vibrant Jewish community at the southern tip of Arabia - one with roots going back over 2,000 years. In recent years the cemetery appears to have been repeatedly vandalized.

Description

Community: Jews first came to this port city centuries ago, possibly over 2,000 years ago. When the British seized the territory in 1839 to protect shipping routes to India, the 300 Jews in Aden comprised half the city’s population. By 1947, the community had grown to 5,000, with most living in the "crater" section of town along six streets in a neighborhood called Hai al-Ahli. In early December 1947, mobs attacked the community, killing over 80 Jews and looting over 100 Jewish-owned shops. Most Jews left by 1950. The small group that remained was evacuated by the British in 1967 following another wave of rioting.

Other Cemeteries: Two ancient Jewish cemeteries existed up in the cliffs surrounding Aden's ancient volcano crater. They appear to have been abandoned for several generations by the time the British arrived. A third newer cemetery was located near the main port area known as Crater, near the Crater police station. There were many tombstones with Hebrew inscriptions scattered all over the area. In 1950, the future President of Israel Yizthak Ben-Zvi travelled to Aden and explored the ancient cemeteries, discovering hundreds of sepulchral slabs. Some slabs dating from the 14th Century can be found in London's British Museum. Today that cemetery has been built over.

Ma'alla Cemetery: British officials closed the Crater Cemetery to new burials (with a few rare exceptions) in the early 1860s. They instead granted land to the west outside the main Crater town, in a district called Ma'alla, for a modern cemetery. At the time the district was sparsely occupied, though today it is a built-up area of Aden. The cemetery lies on the exterior north face of the ancient volcano, sloping down between two thoroughfares. Members of the Bene Israel community (Jews of Indian origin who came with British forces) in Aden were also buried in the cemetery. 

Condition: A cinderblock wall separates the cemetery from the street along the lower road, but the only top barrier is the highway guard-rail. For several decades, a four-sided billboard featuring Yemen’s long-serving president Ali Abdullah Saleh overlooked the cemetery from the roof of the nearby National Bank of Yemen. A few homeless men and some cats loiter inside the cemetery. Most of the tombs have decayed into anonymous rock piles. Others have been vandalized. Still, some tombstones are legible and intact, standing upright as if saluting passing motorists. The earliest date of burial found in the Ma'alla cemetery was from 1863 and the latest from 1967, the year the last of Aden's Jews fled.

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