Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Life of a Persecuted Jew of Syria

Chief Rabbi Jacob Saul Dwek,Hakham Bashi of AleppoSyria, 1907
with secretaries. 
Syrian Jews first immigrated to New York in 1892. The first Syrian Jew to arrive was Jacob Abraham Dwek, along with Ezra Abraham Sitt. They initially lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.Some Syrian Jews have since left America for Israel, under the leadership of Rabbi Albert Hamra.
Nadene Goldfoot                                        
Great rabbis of Aleppo, Syria
1914-Jewish Wedding in Aleppo, Syria
By 1948 at the time that Israel was pronounced a state among the nations of the world, Syria had 30,000 Jews.  By 1991 they only had 4,000.  Today?  probably 1.
Home of Muslim family in Damascus in 1990's.
Another view of Muslim Home 

1910 in Damascus, Syria:  A Jewish family

The Jews of Syria were enduring the most severe persecution imaginable.  A lady from Canada was touched by her neighbor's words who had escaped from the Holocaust and decided to rescue the remaining Jews of Syria and she did, but I'll get back to that mitzvah later.  First, what they were enduring.
Before 1914, there were 14,000 Jews living in Aleppo.  The Jewish Quarter had many ancient synagogues with the oldest being the Mustaribaha, destroyed in 1947's riots.  This synagogue had dated back to the 4th century.
Syrian Jew's Wedding picture

According to tradition, the foundation for the Great Synagogue in Aleppo was constructed by King David’s General, Joab ben Zeruiah, (circa 950 BCE), after his conquest of the city.  Aleppo had been a part of Israel.  
In 1944 amidst WWII, Syria gained their independence from France who had held their mandate.  The new government of Syria then prohibited Jewish emigration to Palestine.  They also severely restricted the teaching of Hebrew in Jewish schools.  What happened/  Attacks against Jews escalated and boycotts were called against their businesses!  

By 1947, the year before the Brits who held the mandate for Palestine, a partition was declared in the UN.  When this was declared, the Arab mobs in Aleppo devastated the 2,600 year old Jewish community.  Now Aleppo was made up of Jews, Muslims and Druze and a few Christians.  The biblical name for Aleppo was Aram Soba. It was part of the extended area of Israel.  It became the  business center of Syria.    In this attack, 75 Jews were killed and more than 200 homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed.  Thousands of Jews illegally fled Syria to go to Israel.

By 1948, there were about 30,000 left in Syria.  Then,  the Syrian government intensified its persecution of the Jewish population.  Many were living on "Yehuda Street-Jew Street. of a Jewish ghetto section of Damascus as well. " Freedom of movement was severely restricted.  Jews who tried to leave faced either the death penalty or imprisonment at hard labor.  When Judith Feld Carr came along, she freed many who had been imprisoned.

1. Jews were not allowed to work for the government, of course, nor work in banks.
2. They could not have a telephone or have driver's licenses.
3.  They were barred from buying property--which had been the bane against Jews all throughout Europe as well.  G-d forbid if we ever had land to work on for our sustenance.
4. Jewish bank accounts were then frozen!  Imagine having money in the bank one day and then having it all in the government's hands instead!  That must have made their hearts  fall like the 1929 USA stock market crash!
5. An airport road was paved over the Jewish cemetery in Damascus.
6.  Jewish schools were closed and handed over to the Muslims.
7. Jews were not allowed to travel more then 3 kilometers without a permit.
Jewish child in a ghetto of Syria, probably Damascus
      In 1987-1988, the Syrian secret police seized 10 Jews on suspicion of violating travel and emigration laws, planning to escape and having taken unauthorized trips abroad.  Several who were released reported being tortured while in custody."  Torture has been an everyday habit of these people according to the report from my source who was also tortured for an American type of everyday act of searching on the web. It was his subjects that were forbidden  for Syrians to have knowledge about.  That was the reason he was picked up and tortured:  reading about  Judaism and Masonry.  You can't be curious and be a Syrian.
November 1989, the Syrian government promised to allowed the emigration of more than 500 single Jewish women.  It was because they outnumbered eligible men in the Jewish quarter and could not find suitable husbands.  24 women were allowed to emigrate in the fall of 1989 and another 20 in 1991.  At this rate, many would be old maids before they ever got out.

The Madrid Conference was held in 1991 when the USA pressured Syria's government to ease its restrictions on Jews.  By Passover 1992, the Syrian government began granting exit visas to Jews on condition that they would not go to Israel.  At this time, 4,000 Jews were living in Damascus in the Yehud ash-sham area.  Jews also were living in Aleppo and Qamishli at this time.  Most Jews had made it to the USA and some even to Israel by then.  A few families had chosen to emigrate to France and Turkey.  There is a large Syrian-Jewish community living in South Brooklyn and in New York.  Just a few, mostly the older women who were caretakers of the cemetery, remained in Damascus.  There was a final airlift by Israel in 1994.  The destination was Tel Aviv.
It was from 1992 and 1994 that Judith Feld Carr, a modern day female Moses, rescued Jews and got them out of Syria.  Like Moses, she had to talk to Assad and get him to allow this to happen.  Judith, a Jew from Canada, was a mother of 6 children and a musicologist, teaching music in high school in Toronto and also teaching at the university.  She rescued 3,228 Syrian Jews, all in secret.   Her last rescue took place on September 11, 2001, an hour before the World Trace Center in New York was attacked by terrorists.  She also saved rare Jewish religious articles like the famous Damascus Codex-the Keter that was written in the 12th century in Italy, winding up in Damascus.  

Aleppo Jews felt they were more well educated than the Damascan Jews.  This is because Aleppo had been the center of Jewish learning.  These Aleppans were called Halabis, following the traditions of Aram Soba.  The Damascene Jews or "Shammies," as they were called, prayed in a different synagogue, though when living in Brooklyn, the 2 groups did get together and socialize.

The surname of Halabi means "Aleppo.  It means that their origins were from Aleppo (Halab) Syria, or it meant that the bearer of the name had traded with Aleppo residents.

Eli and Selim Soued were in prison for traveling to Israel in 1987.  By 1989 they were allowed to contact their families and let them know they were alive.  By May of 1991, each was sentenced to 6 years and 8 months in prison.  2 of the 4 Syrian Jews arrested in 1990, while trying to travel to Turkey without permission, were released in November of 1991.  Also,  2 other Jews were arrested in April 1991 for planning to leave the country illegally.

The Jews of Syria continued to live in extreme fear.  The Jewish Quarter ( Ghetto) in Damascus was under constant surveillance by the secret police.  These spies were present at synagogue services, weddings, bar-mitzvahs and other Jewish gatherings.  Contact with foreigners was closely monitored.

According to the State Department, Jews "were the only minority whose passports and identity cards note their religion and were under more thorough surveillance than the general population.

Jews had to get permission to sell a car or a house.  All their letters, phone calls, and other forms of correspondence were censored.  They were forbidden to work in the public sector and many university programs were closed to them.  Travel abroad was permitted in exceptional cases, but only if a bond of $300 to $1,000 was left behind along with family members who served as hostages.  China has been known to do something like this.                                
Alois Brunner (8 April 1912 – 2001[1] or 2010[2]) was an AustrianSchutzstaffel (SS) officer who worked as Adolf Eichmann's assistant.  Brunner is held responsible for sending over 100,000 European Jews to the gas chambers. He was commander of the Drancy internment camp outside Paris from June 1943 to August 1944, from which nearly 24,000 people were deported.
Syria's attitude towards Jews has been reflected in its continued sheltering of Alois Brunner, one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals that was at large.  Damascus had refused to extradite him.  Brunner, when 78 years old, was a chief aide to Adolf Eichmann and served as an adviser to the Assad regime.  He continued to enjoy the protection of the Syrian security service.  " During his long residence in Syria,   Brunner was reportedly granted asylum, a generous salary and protection by the ruling Ba'ath Party in exchange for his advice on effective torture and interrogation techniques used by the Germans in World War II."
There is a legend about Aleppo.  The legend says that Abraham, father of Jews and Muslims, had pastured his sheep on the mountain of Aleppo and from there had distributed milk to the poor on its slopes.  What would he say to the devastation of the Jews by their relatives, the Muslims of Syria?  Jews had been in Aleppo at least since the Greek period and remained throughout the Roman period.  Heads of the Palestinian yeshivot (schools) visited Aleppo.  Exiles from Spain's Spanish Inquisition came to Aleppo in the 16th century which includes some famous rabbis.
Aleppo:  2016  Destroyed
At the time, we noted that there's one particular Bible passage that's rekindling the entire discussion surrounding how Syria might fit into end times theology: Isaiah 17:1-3. It reads, “'See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.Oct 2, 2015

By the time  this prophecy was uttered, the tribes of Reuben and Gad had already been exiled from their lands.  Isaiah warns Aram (Syria) that it would be exiled by Sennacherib, just as he had exiled the Jewish city of Aroer and then the rest of the  10 Tribes.
The prophecy went on in 17:5 that told about Israel which did come true after the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. "Israel will be as uninhabited as a field that has been harvested and then gleaned by the poor.  The Valley of Rephaim was near Jerusalem;  thus Sennacherib's butchery would extend up to Jerusalem-commented Rashi.

Resource:  "Myths and Facts-a concise record of the Arab-Israeli conflict," by Mitchell G. Bard, Joel Himelfarb
my blog:  What Happened to the Jews of Aleppo, Syria? http://jewishfactsfromportland.blogspot.com/2013/09/what-happened-to-jews-of-aleppo-syria.html
Tanakh (Bible) the Stone Edition.
Messages from a Syrian Jew Trapped in Egypt-my book on amazon.com

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