Three excellent articles in this month’s Forward Magazine on Syria’s Jews, past and present.
Julian Weinberg talks to some of the Jews living in the Old City of Damascus:
Faisal had grown up in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Damascus after his family was forced to leave Safad near Tiberius in 1948. In fact, over twenty years ago, the population of the Jewish Quarter was around 50-50, Palestinian-Jewish. “He is not my enemy,” said Faisal about Musa and his other Jewish friends. “My enemy is he who lives in my home. Here, I live in his home, I am his visitor.”
“Humans, and especially the intellectual, cannot feel bad towards the Jews because they are Jewish,” said Radwan, “But Zionism, Israel has caused most of the problems in the area. The religion is very respected. We have all lived together without problems for millennia. There were no pogroms or ghettos here,” continued Radwan, alluding to the way many European countries has treated their own Jewish communities. “Religion is from God,” echoes Faisal. “Zionism, that is different.”
Brooke Anderson deals with Syria’s Jewish diaspora:
Despite their reputation for being insular, a few Syrian Jews have become celebrities. Pop singer Paula Abdul’s father was born in Syria and grew up in Brazil, actor Dan Hedaya’s father was born in Aleppo and comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s mother’s family is also from Syria. It was perhaps his Jewish humor with familiar Arab themes – intrusive families, guests showing up at people’s homes unannounced and petty arguments with neighborhood merchants – that made Seinfeld the most popular American comedy on Syrian TV.
Allaham, 34, one of the few Syrian Jews with memories of Syria, says he speaks Arabic with his children and hopes to bring them for a visit to Damascus one day.
For now, Syrian Jews continue to maintain their culture in their well-established expatriate communities – with a certain pride and defiance leaving no doubt they are indeed Syrian. “To be a Syrian Jew, you don’t need to be in Syria,” says Carlos Zarur, who grew up in Mexico, Brazil and the United States, and whose grandparents hail from Damascus and Aleppo. “My connection with Syria is my self! I’m a Syrian Jew. It doesn’t matter that I was born in another country.”
And Sami Moubayed looks at the role of Syrian Jews in fighting the French occupation of Syria:
Syrian Jews were always at the forefront of the nationalist movement in Syria, and were always treated, as first-class citizens. Yusuf Lindau, a wealthy merchant from Damascus, was voted deputy in the first post-Ottoman Parliament in 1919, and he helped crown Faisal as king, signing another petition that curtly refused the Balfour Declaration, which gave the Zionists “a national home” in Palestine. Lindau won with a landslide victory – again – in 1928, serving on a committee that drafted Syria’s first republican constitution, along with nationalist heavyweights like future president, Hashem al-Atassi.