The Yemenite quarters is a neighborhood in Tel Aviv that is home to some of the city’s richest history. Locals call this neighborhood “The Kerem”, which literally means “The Vineyards”; and in fact, in the late 1800’s, that’s all it was.
The neighborhood of Kerem HaTeimanim (“The Yemenite Vineyards”) was established in the early 1900’s by Yemenite-Jewish immigrants and held the spirit of a rich Yemenite culture. Through the years, many things have changed, and because the stories of a place are best told by the people who live there, here’s what locals shared about what was, what remains, and what’s happening.
“People Used to Drum on Metal Cans in the Streets!”
Disclaimer, this isn’t an old picture :). It’s from recent years when a Yemenite resident recreated the scene of how residents used to drum, dance, and sing in the streets!
Interestingly, Jews in Yemen were prohibited from playing musical instruments, a symbol of grieving over second temple, and ended up really perfecting skills in singing and rhythm. Furthermore, they would beat on tin cans to create rhythm, as it was not considered a musical instrument. This is one of the most precious pieces of the Yemenite-Jewish culture that is no longer found in the Kerem HaTeimanim.
So what still remains?
Traditional Yemenite Food Venders
If you visit the Kerem HaTeimanim, it’s likely that you will see someone making Lachuch, traditional Yemenite flat bread made from sourdough and ground fenugreek seeds. And speaking of ground fenugreek seeds, you can also still find people selling this beloved Yemenite spice…
After this ground fenugreek seed spice has been prepared with boiling water (plus waiting time and some tender loving care), hilbeh will eventually be served as a foamy side accompaniment to Yemenite soups and breads. It is known to be a miracle health food, but is also know for making your sweat having a distinct after smell. 🙂
You can also still find locals that open their homes once a week to serve traditional foods like Jachnun, which, as a local added, “is not pretty, but sooo yummy!”.
And besides lots of Yemenite food, you can find…
The Quiet of Shabbat (with a bit of flare)
The Kerem HaTeimanim remains a home to many families and even some elders who have spent their whole lives there. Many neighbors still share a spirit of genuine care for each other and invite each other for coffee, tea, food, listening to records, and story-telling.
Residents appreciate that “you can still feel Shabbat here” as it is still very quiet and peaceful. People also shared that they also love that you can still see the flare of people on the streets, as demonstrated above with this handmade horse wagon.
What’s Happening Now?
Because this neighborhood was less advantaged and overlooked for many years, it was able to maintain its intimate culture for many years. However, due to the fairly recent boom in Israeli tourism and Airbnbs, gentrification, extreme increase in property value (and thus the younger generation selling their family’s properties), and the elders of the neighborhood passing away, the Yemenite population in the Kerem is quickly disappearing. A dramatic shift in the culture is happening which has resulted in many of the small spice shops being replaced by bars, cafés, and fashionable eateries.
So while “The Kerem” still maintains a feeling of an authentic culture and charm, it is something not to be taken for granted. Perhaps the most touching and shared perspective from this community was that, “It’s all in the hands of the people, the goodness of the people, to preserve what’s left of the culture”.
Written by: Jessica Bloomfield Kitchens