How Twelve Syrian Jewish Women Married Their Way to Freedom

Jan. 24 2018

In 1977, as Syria’s remaining Jews faced an ever-worsening situation, Congressman Stephen Solarz—who represented a Brooklyn district then home to some 25,000 Jews of Syrian origin—managed to bring twelve young women safely to the U.S. The website On the Rescue Front tells the story:

After Syrian independence from France in 1946, the 1947 partition plan, and the 1948 founding of Israel, Jews in Syria faced terrible discrimination, including several deadly pogroms and riots. By the time of the Six-Day War in 1967, there were an estimated 5,000 Jews in Syria, down from 40,000-45,000 in 1948. Jews could not work for the government or banks, or own telephones or driver’s licenses. Jewish property and passports were seized; bank accounts were frozen; Jewish schools were closed; the Jewish cemetery in Damascus was paved over. A 1964 law restricted Jews from traveling more than five kilometers from their hometowns. Jews who were allowed to leave for medical or business reasons had to leave behind money and family members as collateral.

The three largest Jewish communities, in Damascus, Aleppo, and Kamishli, were placed under house arrest for eight months following the Six-Day War. Jews began escaping in secret, sometimes with help from abroad, even though the penalty for attempting to escape or helping someone to escape was either imprisonment with hard labor or death, and any family members left behind could be imprisoned. Most of those who escaped were young single men. . . . As a result, by 1977, there were 500 unmarried Jewish women in their late teens and early twenties who had no marriage prospects within the Jewish community and who were not allowed to marry non-Jews.

Representative Solarz traveled to Damascus in December 1976, where he spoke with Jewish leaders as well as Syrian government officials. . . . [After Solarz lobbied the Carter administration], Secretary of State Cyrus Vance spoke with President Hafez al-Assad about the young women in February and May 1977; [then] National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski put Congressman Solarz in touch with President Carter, who made a personal plea to the Syrian president in May. Assad eventually agreed to let twelve women leave through proxy marriages.

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Read more at On the Rescue Front

More about: American Jewry, Hafez al-Assad, History & Ideas, Jimmy Carter, Refugees, Syrian Jewry

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East