Robbed of Its Congregants and Ravaged by War, the Great Synagogue of Aleppo Lives On, Virtually

June 24 2022

At Jerusalem’s Israel Museum, it is now possible to experience a virtual-reality tour of various historic synagogues. Matti Friedman describes his “visit” to the Great Synagogue of Aleppo, which was destroyed during the brutal assault on the city by Bashar al-Assad’s forces in 2016:

Prayers began at the site, scholars believe, around the 5th century CE, maybe earlier, and continued until the 1990s, when the last Jews left the city. There were breaks only for events like the Mongol invasion that leveled much of Aleppo in the 13th century, for the occasional devastating earthquake, and for the Arab riots and arson that accompanied the United Nations vote on Israel’s creation in 1947. No other synagogue on earth embodied fifteen continuous centuries of Jewish life and memory.

Since the community’s final departure, the building had been empty but intact, guarded by the regime, upkeep covered discreetly by members of the Aleppo Jewish diaspora. But photos after the 2016 fighting showed pulverized stonework, a courtyard full of rubble, twisted iron railings, and Hebrew engravings blasted off the walls. The Great Synagogue was gone.

The virtual exhibit was made possible by a Syrian Jewish woman from Aleppo named Sarah Shammah, at whose behest an Armenian photographer took 51 pictures of the building:

One day . . . in 1947, just weeks before the outbreak of Israel’s War of Independence, Shammah had the ancient building recorded in its entirety by the photographer, whose name has been lost. She seems to have had a premonition. Only days later, on November 29, the United Nations voted to partition the British Mandate territory of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, upon which a mob in Aleppo rioted and torched Jewish homes, shops, and synagogues, including much of the Great Synagogue. . . . After the 1947 riot, Shammah made it to Jerusalem via Beirut with the negatives. The borders were cut a few months later, and she never saw her city again.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Jewish museums, Synagogues, Syrian civil war, Technology

 

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine