Syrian Jewry was one of the largest and most glorious communities in the Middle East. The two largest and most important communities were the Damascus community, and the Aleppo community – Aram Tzuba. The Jewish community of Damascus existed since the days of King David until the end of the 20th century, and despite being a relatively small community, created significant spiritual, communal, cultural and historical treasures.
The community was severely affected after Syria’s independence. Riots broke out in 1946, and Jews were denied basic rights. Following the UN resolution on November 29th 1947, more riots broke out and the community was fatally hurt. The main synagogue of Aleppo was burned down, and a lot of property was set on fire or destroyed. After the establishment of the State of Israel, most of the Jews of Syria fled under duress, and of the 30,000 Jews who lived there in the past, only about 5,000 remained. Since 1973, human rights activist Judy Peled Carr has helped some 3,000 Jews to smuggle across the border. In the mid-1990s, President Hafez al-Assad allowed Syrian Jews to leave the country, provided they pledged not to immigrate to Israel and hand over all their property to the government.
The Syrian community was unique because Damascus and the Land of Israel were under one rule for many years, and the Jews in Damascus felt that they were part of the Land of Israel, free to move between the two places.
During the First World War, Hebrew educators who were exiled to Damascus by the Ottoman authorities helped to strengthen Zionist education, and Hebrew schools and Zionist youth movements were established. Education provided fertile ground for pioneering youth immigration. Numerous families immigrated to israel and settled mainly in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Holon and Tivon and also in various settlement.
A major contribution to the establishment of the state was made by the youth who joined the undercover department in Palmach, and later joined the Mossad and its branches after the establishment of the state. The community’s contribution to Israel’s security forces, to settlement, academia and culture, to spiritual life and religion, are the fruit of a glorious heritage of thousands of years that the community does still preserves, for future generations.