THOUGHTS ON SYRIA, ANTISEMITISM, ALEPPO AND BEING JEWISH
When I was a child, I remember my mother speaking to me about Eli Cohen, “the spy from Damascus” with such reverence and respect and admiration that I believed that he had to be one of our close relatives.
Mr. Cohen had infiltrated the Syrian hierarchy and was high up in the elder Al- Assad’s government ; when he was discovered to be a spy for the fledging country of Israel, he was brutally tortured and humiliated, put to death by public hanging and left hanging for days out in the open.
This was not unusual behavior for the Syrians. Since pre-biblical times their forefathers, the Assyrians, were considered to be the cruelest, most vicious of peoples.
This point was further brought home to me by Judy Feld Carr, one of my greatest heroes, who masterminded, organized and personally ran one of the most incredible life -saving missions in the 20th century.
Judy, who I so proudly consider my adopted older sister, saved the lives of upwards of 3,000 Syrian Jews secretly for 28 years — stopping only in 2011.
Syrian Jews were not allowed to leave Syria from the time of Israel’s creation and the Jews were held in Syria against their will. They were persecuted and demonized and if they tried to leave and were caught, they were tortured, imprisoned and in many cases, murdered.
Judy, at great personal risk organized their escapes, surreptitiously collected ransom money and planned their escape routes. She did so, even though she received ongoing death threats and her own wellbeing was constantly under threat. Her late husband, Dr. Ronald Feld actually died as a result of her involvement in the cause- and yet, she persevered.
The stories she has shared with me about the barbarity, cruelty and viciousness of the Syrians was extraordinary, even by Middle Eastern standards.
So, what does this have to do with today’s Syria- and me?
Initially, when this horrendous civil war broke out, my position on the Syrians was …tempered. I did not react with my customary outrage at a horrendous and devastating civil war. I thought of Eli Cohen, hanging in the square, stripped of his dignity as well as his life, and I thought of the 3000 Jews who were smuggled out of Syria, most times with just their clothes on their backs, through dangerous and expensive channels, people whose families had lived in Syria for centuries, people who had contributed so much to their country, who were treated like criminals, ostracized and demonized, solely for being Jewish.
I thought of the barbarism, cruelty, inhumanity that these Jews had endured and it certainly impacted my level of humanitarianism vis a vis their Muslim counterparts..
And then — I just couldn’t stand it anymore. The children being indiscriminately murdered by their own president, hospitals being deliberately targeted by bombs, ordered by their president, neighbourhoods being wiped out, by their own president.
At one point, I began to cry with such fury and anger that I couldn’t stop shaking.
I thought about it, long and hard. I thought about how I could not personally bear moral equivalency and it made me reflect on why I reacted this way.
I realized I am a product of my own upbringing, of what I believe to be decency and morality, of being, inherently and unconditionally, Jewish..
We are a people who celebrate and honour life. When we toast someone, we say “L’chaim- to life”. When we want to celebrate someone, we say” May you LIVE to 120.”
Every single important concept in Judaism is focused on life- being grateful for it, enjoying it, acknowledging it.
And- protecting life as sacred.
And so, as we have watched the horrendous genocide of Syria play out, with bombs ordered by the murderer ,Assad raining down indiscriminately on children and hospitals, turning Aleppo into rubble, annihilating an entire nation, I thank G-d that I am imbued with a humanity that comes from my religion, from my ancient code of ethics, from Judaism.
Thank you, G-d — for making me Jewish, for giving me such a morality and code of ethics, for giving me my humanity.