Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Syrian Jews

The history of Jews in Syria is not very different than the history of the big Jewish community. There was alot of direct and indirect persecution to the small Syria Jewish community.

I have visited many Syrian websites trying to know more about the Jewish history. Most of them pointed out that Jews might have migrated from Spain during the Spanish inquisition and persecution to Jews. However, that contradicts the point of view of Syrian Jews, because many of them believe that their religion and history is traced back to 2500 years ago in SYria.

It is also important to mention that many Jewish scientists and businessmen were close to some Caliphates during the Omayyad dynasty rule of Syria in the 8th and 9th centuries. The most profound relationship with Jews and Muslim rulers was established in the tolerant Omayyad rule of Andalusia in Spain.

At the beginning of the 20th century some Jews, as well as many other Syrians, have migrated. Most of them migrated to New York.

After the Syrian independent from the French mandate, Jews started having hard time, because there were many restrictions on them leaving the country or joining military or political affairs.

During the early and mid 90's Most of the Jews of Syria were given permission to leave the country; however, the permission strictly forbids them to go to Israel.
No matter how much going to Isral was prohibitied, some 1262 Jews managed to migrate to Israel in an undercover operation according to the Jerusalem Post (October, 1994). On the other hand, most of the other Jews migrated to New York City, USA. And most of them live in Brooklyn, and they are said to be managing many businesses especially in the Jewlery district in NYC.

Why did the government give permissions to Jews is abit confusing. Online sources mention that the US put pressure on Syria to give more freedom for Jews, especially after the Madrid Peace conference in 1991. It's even rumored that Syria received some cash for every Jewish person it allows to migrate.

I have met two Syrian Jews and they talked about the whole story of their immigration and the Syrian government. Both of their views were so contradicting.
The first one said that a person from the Syrian intelligence had visited every Jewish house in Damascus and tried to convince them NOT to migrate.

The other person didn't stop bashing the government, because he believes that he was forced to leave the country where he used to have a great wealthy life managing his father's factories and business.

According to an estimated census by Rabbi Huder Shahada Kabariti, the spiritual leader of the Syria Jews, There are 150 Jews living in Damascus, 30 in Aleppo and 20 in Kamashili. There are also two synagogues still open in Damascus, while the big Synagogue of Aleppo got deserted in 1994 according to the Associated Press, (January, 2000)

19 Comments:

Blogger Ghalia said...

Nice facts to know about Syria, and I think ut blog is going to be also unique:), way to go, good luck:)

3:42 AM  
Blogger Sinan said...

Interesting info :)
And welcome to the blogging community :)

10:40 AM  
Blogger Tolerant Damascene said...

Thanks, Ghalia and Sinan :)

12:17 PM  
Blogger Zach said...

Wow, I didn't know there are so few Jewish people in Syria. Your post was very informative. I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future, especially the ones about religion.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Rami said...

Welcome to the Syrian Blogging community :)
Very Interesting subject...wish you all the best...

10:06 AM  
Blogger GottfriedStutz said...

Interesting blog. Congratulations.

About the Syrian Jews: Having known several among them, I got the impression that those who left in the 80's and during the big emigration wave of the 90's did so mostly for economic reasons or because of a feeling of insecurity. Very few left for Israel. Rabbi Hamra did, but that was an exception.

A very small number even went back to Syria, arguing that their life, culture and career were there rather than in Brooklyn.

Still, it is a pity how the successive Syrian governments did not manage to encourage the Jews to stay. In my opinion, a ban on travel was a mistake because it meant discrimination. Let's hope that the few Syrian Jews who stayed will be given the means to pursue their contribution to Syria's spiritual and cultural diversity and wealth.

4:35 AM  
Blogger Storm Trooper said...

Remember me? Ha ha - I bet you don't.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Madi said...

Nice blog. I look forward to reading more about one of the world's most mysterious and enigmatic countries.

8:30 AM  
Blogger annie said...

Great article. I always wondered about the Jews here but was afraid to ask. IMHO the worst dammage Israel caused (after the highjacking of Palestine) was the destruction of the centuries old jewish communities in the arab world.

10:10 AM  
Blogger Orikinla Osinachi. said...

All the Jews in Syria were descendants of their those who migrated from Israel to Syria and they are not Syrians, So, thank God they were allowed to leave in peace?

Great information for the big jigzaw of the whole mystery of the history, politics and wars in the Middle East and the Jewish American Connection to defend their homeland Israel from all their enemies from Gaza to Fulusha.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Storm Trooper said...

I remember you - this was that blog that I left a post on last night in hopes that you'd comment on mine. Ha! Take care!

2:34 PM  
Blogger littleWave said...

Yeah, I dig this! Its real sweet to get a little look-in from the other side of perspectives & the world!
It will also be nice to get a little syrian lesson each new blog!! Good luck Damascene!

4:03 PM  
Blogger jerusalemgypsy said...

Hi from jerusalem! Inshallah, the Middle East will become like the European Community - for all the Abrahamic tribes - and we will be able to visit.

1:10 AM  
Blogger Ihsan said...

What happened to those who went to Israel? I hear they are second class citizens! Anybody knows anything about how Syrian Jews are being treated in Israel in term of everything? Any sources or articles pls?

Thanx for the info btw :)

5:30 AM  
Anonymous Fadi said...

Damascene,

I think that you missed one major point in your interesting post:
Relatively large Jewish communities were living harmonically in Syria for thousands of years (mainly in Damascus and Aleppo) until the creation of Israel.
At the time Israeli propaganda machines were active in persuading Jews to migrate to Palestine by scaring them of "Arab revenge" because of the atrocities Zionist militias were committing in Palestinian villages and towns in the 30s and 40s to push Christians and Muslims from what is now Israel. Radio transmissions were directed in Arabic language to Arab Jews everywhere from Syria and Iraq to Egypt and Morocco.

I have just finished watching a documentary I got from a Jewish friend (a second generation UK born Iraqi Jew). The documentary was simply a series of interviews with Iraqi Jews living in Palestine and the US describing how they migrated from Iraq to America and Palestine. Many stated how they were treated as second class citizens in Israel (being Arab Jews not European ones) and how many Iraqi Rabbis later discovered how Zionist militants were involved in bombing Synagogues in Baghdad and Cairo to scare the Iraqi and Egyptian Jews and push them to migrate to Palestine.

1:58 PM  
Blogger nirzo Artworks ™ said...

Hi there

First let me thank you for your visit and comments on my site - You are welcome to visit again.

http://nirzo.blogspot.com

Doing some google-ing I found the following (out of many)

The Jews of Syria
By Mitchell Bard

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1948 Jewish population: 30,000
2003: Fewer than 10010
In 1944, after Syria gained independence from France, the new government prohibited Jewish immigration to Palestine, and severely restricted the teaching of Hebrew in Jewish schools. Attacks against Jews escalated, and boycotts were called against their businesses.

When partition was declared in 1947, Arab mobs in Aleppo devastated the 2,500-year-old Jewish community. Scores of Jews were killed and more than 200 homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed. Thousands of Jews illegally fled Syria to go to Israel.1

Shortly after, the Syrian government intensified its persecution of the Jewish population. Freedom of movement was severely restricted. Jews who attempted to flee faced either the death penalty or imprisonment at hard labor. Jews were not allowed to work for the government or banks, could not acquire telephones or driver's licenses, and were barred from buying property. Jewish bank accounts were frozen. An airport road was paved over the Jewish cemetery in Damascus; Jewish schools were closed and handed over to Muslims.

Syria's attitude toward Jews was reflected in its sheltering of Alois Brunner, one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals. Brunner, a chief aide to Adolf Eichmann, served as an adviser to the Assad regime.2

In 1987-88, 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.3

In November 1989, the Syrian government promised to facilitate the emigration of more than 500 single Jewish women, who greatly outnumbered eligible men in the Jewish community and could not find suitable husbands. Twenty-four were allowed to emigrate in the fall of 1989 and another 20 in 1991.4

For years, the Jews in Syria lived in extreme fear. The Jewish Quarter in Damascus was under the constant surveillance of the secret police, who were present at synagogue services, weddings, bar-mitzvahs and other Jewish gatherings. Contact with foreigners was closely monitored. Travel abroad was permitted in exceptional cases, but only if a bond of $300-$1,000 was left behind, along with family members who served as hostages. U.S. pressure applied during peace negotiations helped convince President Hafez Assad to lift these restrictions, and those prohibiting Jews from buying and selling property, in the early 1990's.

In an undercover operation in late 1994, 1,262 Syrian Jews were brought to Israel. The spiritual leader of the Syrian Jewish community for 25 years, Rabbi Avraham Hamra, was among those who left Syria and went to New York (he now lives in Israel). Syria had granted exit visas on condition that the Jews not go to Israel.5 The decision to finally free the Jews came about largely as a result of pressure from the United States following the 1991 Madrid peace conference.

By the end of 1994, the Joab Ben Zeruiah Synagogue in Aleppo, in continuous use for more than 1,600 years, was deserted. A year later, approximately 250 Jews remained in Damascus, all apparently staying by choice.6 By the middle of 2001, Rabbi Huder Shahada Kabariti estimated that 150 Jews were living in Damascus, 30 in Haleb and 20 in Kamashili. Every two or three months, a rabbi visits from Istanbul, Turkey, to oversee preparation of kosher meat, which residents freeze and use until his next visit. Two synagogues remain open in Damascus.7

Although Jews are occasionally subjected to violence by Palestinian protesters in Syria, the government has taken strict protective measures, including arresting assailants and guarding the remaining synagogues.8

According to the State Department, Jews still have a separate primary school for religious instruction on Judaism and are allowed to teach Hebrew in some schools. About a dozen students still attend the Jewish school, which had 500 students as recently as 1992. Jews and Kurds are the only minorities not allowed to participate in the political system. In addition, "the few remaining Jews are generally barred from government employment and do not have military service obligations. They are the only minority whose passports and identity cards note their religion."9


Notes
1Howard Sachar, A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time., (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 400; Maurice Roumani, The Case of the Jews from Arab Countries: A Neglected Issue, (Tel Aviv: World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, 1977), p. 31; Norman Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times, (NY: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), p. 146.

2Newsday, (November 1, 1987); information provided by Rep. Michael McNulty.

3. Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Syria, (NY: Middle East Watch, 1990), p. 94.

4Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1991, (DC: Department of State, 1992), p. 1610.

5Jerusalem Post, (Oct. 18, 1994).

6Jerusalem Post, (May 27, 1995).

7Associated Press, (January 27, 2000).

8U.S. Department of State, 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Washington, DC, (September 5, 2000).

9. U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Practices for 2001.

10. David Singer and Lawrence Grossman, Eds. American Jewish Year Book 2003. NY: American Jewish Committee, 2003.

1:48 AM  
Blogger SillyBahrainiGirl said...

Thanks for all this info..
and all this time i thought that يزيدية are a sect in Islam...

Guess there are two sects/factions/religions/groups which claim the same name to different faiths?

What says the expert?

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To put a human side on the story of Syrian Jews, there are two interesting and very different books:

1) Ransomed of God tells the story of a Canadian music teacher named Judy who learned about the plight of Syrian Jews and helped rescue several thousand of them, often by bribing Syrian government officials.

2) For a more literary take on Syrian Jewish culture, see Haim Sabato's Aleppo Tales. It is a collection of short stories, some set in Aleppo and others set in refugee camps outside Jerusalem for Syrian and other Middle Eastern Jews who fled to Israel.

Finally, see some photos of Syrian Jews online at: http://www.bh.org.il/V-Exh/Photos/index.htm

6:22 AM  
Blogger Tolerant Damascene said...

Anonymous,
thanks for recommending me the two books. I've already heard about the "Aleppo tales" and I ordered it today.

Thanks for your input.

9:21 PM  

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