Syrian Jews

Syrian Jews
יהודי סוריה
اليهود السوريون
Jewish family in Damascus, 1910.jpg
A Jewish family in Damascus, pictured in their ancient Damascene home, in Ottoman Syria, 1901
Total population
175,000 to 200,000+ (est.)
Regions with significant populations
 Syria20 [1]
 United States75,000[2]
Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, French, English
Related ethnic groups
Mizrahi Jews, Sephardi Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, other Jewish groups, other Syrian people, Arabs, other Levantines

Syrian Jews (Hebrew: יהודי סוריה Yehudey Surya, Arabic: الْيَهُود السُّورِيُّونal-Yahūd as-Sūriyyūn, colloquially called SYs z/ in the United States) are Jews who lived in the region of the modern state of Syria, and their descendants born outside Syria. Syrian Jews derive their origin from two groups: from the Jews who inhabited the region of today's Syria from ancient times (known as Musta'arabi Jews, and sometimes classified as Mizrahi Jews, a generic term for the Jews with an extended history in the Middle East or North Africa); and from the Sephardi Jews (referring to Jews with an extended history in the Iberian Peninsula, i.e. Spain and Portugal) who fled to Syria after the Alhambra Decree forced the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

There were large communities in Aleppo ("Halabi Jews", Aleppo is Halab in Arabic) and Damascus ("Shami Jews") for centuries, and a smaller community in Qamishli on the Turkish border near Nusaybin. In the first half of the 20th century a large percentage of Syrian Jews immigrated to the U.S., Latin America and Israel. Most of the remaining Jews left in the 28 years following 1973, due in part to the efforts of Judy Feld Carr, who claims to have helped some 3,228 Jews emigrate; emigration was officially allowed in 1992.[3] The largest Syrian Jewish community is located in Brooklyn, New York and is estimated at 75,000 strong.[4] There are smaller communities elsewhere in the United States and in Latin America.

In 2011, there had been about 250 Jews still living within Syria, mostly in Damascus.[5][6] By May 2012, only 22 Jews were left in Syria.[7] As of December 2014, fewer than 50 Jews remained in the area due to increasing violence and war.[8]In October 2015, with the threat of ISIS nearby, nearly all of the remaining Jews in Aleppo were rescued in a covert operation and moved to Ashkelon, Israel. It was estimated in November 2015 that only 18 Jews remain in Syria.[9]More recently, in September 2016, the last Jews of Aleppo were rescued hence ending that last Jewish presence in Aleppo.[9]


Jewish pupils in the Maimonides school in 'Amārah al Juwwānīyah, in the historic Maison Lisbona in Damascus. The photo was taken shortly before the exodus of most of the remaining Syrian Jewish community in 1992
Chief Rabbi Jacob Saul Dwek, Hakham Bashi of Aleppo, Syria, 1907.

There have been Jews in Syria since ancient times: according to the community's tradition, since the time of King David, and certainly since early Roman times. Jews from this ancient community were known as Musta'arabim ("Arabizers") to themselves, or Moriscos to the Sephardim.[10]

Many Sephardim arrived following the expulsion from Spain in 1492, and quickly took a leading position in the community. For example, five successive Chief Rabbis of Aleppo were drawn from the Laniado family.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, some Jews from Italy and elsewhere, known as Señores Francos, settled in Syria for trading reasons, while retaining their European nationalities.

Kurdish Jews, hailing from the region of Kurdistan, represent another sub-group of Syrian Jews. Their presence in Syria predates the arrival of Sephardic Jews following the reconquista.[11] The ancient communities of Urfa and Çermik also formed part of the broader Syrian community and the Aleppo community included some migrants from these cities.

Today, some distinctions between these sub-groups are preserved, in the sense that particular families have traditions about their origins. However, there is considerable intermarriage among the groups and all regard themselves as "Sephardim" in a broader sense. It is said that one can tell Aleppo families of Spanish descent by the fact that they light an extra Hanukkah candle. This custom was apparently established in gratitude for their acceptance by the more native Syrian based community.

In the 19th century, following the completion of the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1869, trade shifted to that route from the overland route through Syria, and the commercial importance of Aleppo and Damascus underwent a marked decline. Many families left Syria for Egypt (and a few for Lebanon) in the following decades, and with increasing frequency until the First World War, many Jews left the Middle East for western countries, mainly Great Britain, the United States, Mexico and Argentina. Further emigration, particularly following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, was largely caused by repeated Muslim aggression towards the Jewish communities in Syria.

Beginning on the Passover holiday of 1992, the 4,000 remaining members of the Damascus Jewish community (Arabic Yehud ash-Sham), as well as the Aleppo community and the Jews of Qamishli, were permitted under the government of Hafez al-Assad to leave Syria provided they did not immigrate to Israel. Within a few months, thousands of Syrian Jews made their way to Brooklyn, with a few families choosing to go to France and Turkey. The majority settled in Brooklyn with the help of their kin in the Syrian Jewish community.