The first Hebrew/Judeo-Yemeni Arabic dictionary was recently introduced by Rabbi Dr. Aharon Ben-David, who served as its editor. The lexicon aims to offer the Hebrew equivalent for a popular North Yemeni dialect, once common in the Jewish communities of Hidan, Najran and Higra.
The "Yar Yair Dictionary," which was compiled by the late Assaf Yair Madar-Halevy over more than 50 years, comprises over 500 pages. Madar-Halevy died in 1991 and did not live to see his life's work published. According to Ben-David, he spent decades collecting words and phrases, many of which were nearly forgotten. His wife, Nehama, assisted him.
The two had set aside space in their home dedicated to the preservation of the legacy of the Judeo-Yemenite community. Following Madar-Halevy's death, the Rehovot Municipality moved the makeshift heritage center to one of the city's community centers. It is currently building a new center, which it plans to call "Nehama and Yair House." Construction is scheduled to be completed in two years.
According to Ben-David, who himself has penned nine books on Judeo-Yemenite heritage, the project focused on more than mere words.
"I will never forget coming to Israel in 1951, at the age of nine," he said. "A few years later, I watched 'Roots' [a miniseries based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel of the same name] and I decided that I wanted to find my own roots. Since that day, I have always sought ways to preserve the traditions and heritage of the North Yemeni Jewish community."