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Aleppo rabbi chief Yedid dies in New York.

Summary: Before Israel's creation in 1948 there were 30,000 Syrian Jews but numbers have dwindled for various reasons

Image Credit: Supplied Sami Moubayed, Correspondent

Beirut: The former head of the Jewish community of Aleppo, Rabbi Yomtov Yedid, died this week in New York, aged 93.

Despite an ongoing effort by the Syrian regime to woo the remaining Jews of Syria, his passing received no mention in the Syrian press.

It was also completely neglected by all websites and social media networks operated by the Riyadh-backed Syrian opposition. His passing revives interest in the fate of Syrian Jews plagued, like all Syrians, by the savage war currently entering its sixth year.

The Jewish community of Aleppo, once powerful, wealthy and well-connected in overseas trade, has suffered tremendously from the ongoing war in Syria. Since 2011, they started leaving in small numbers and the last Jewish family made a rapid exit from the war-torn city in November 2015, fearing an eminent attack on their neighbourhood by Daesh.

Rabbi Yedid, a one-time notable in Aleppo, moved to the United States back in the 1980s, leaving behind friends and family in Aleppo.

Because of the ongoing war in the city, none of them were able to mourn his passing this Wednesday.

Currently Aleppo is encircled by government troops, with strong support from the Russian Air Force, marking a major turning point in the Syria War.

In Damascus, the situation is much better for what remains of local Jews, clustered in an ancient alley that still carries their name, wedged between Muslim quarters and the Hay Al Ameen neighbourhood of Damascene Shiites.

They have been receiving relative protection by the state.

In December 2010, they were granted permission to restore the 400-year-old Al Raqi Synagogue in Hay Al Yahud, constructed during Ottoman times. They were planning to restore 10 out of 17 damaged synagogues, a project interrupted by the Syria war that broke out in 2011.

The ancient synagogue of Jobar, 2km northeast of the Old City, was damaged and destroyed by mortar bombs in May 2014.

Currently only two thirds of it remains standing. The only functioning synagogue of Damascus, Al Faranji, is located across the boutique Talisman Hotel in the Old City, serving a congregation of 16 people only, mostly retired Syrian Jews aged 60-90. There are no young men left in Hay Al Yahud.

Before Israel's creation in 1948, Syrian Jews numbered an impressive 30,000. They had faced hardships under the Ottomans, prevented from building grand synagogues, for example, and forced to wear colour-specific outfits to differentiate them from Muslims and Christians.

During the independence era, they flourished in Syrian society and briefly in 1920, were allowed to publish their own Hebrew newspaper called "Al Hayat."

It was published three times a week for nine months, with contributions from Muslim and Christian writers, and had a circulation of 7,000 copies.

The Syrian Government also gave license for a Hebrew Printing Press in Damascus, with machinery imported from British Mandate Palestine.

One of their notables, Yousuf Linadu was a member of parliament during the pre-Baath years, while Ishaq Totah was a prominent physician whose clinic in Damascus was frequented by the city's moneyed elite throughout the 1950s. During the short-lived Syrian-Egyptian Union (1958-1961) Syrian Jews stood at 15,000, a 50 per cent drop in just ten years.

By 2011 they stood at just 200 (150 in Damascus, 50 in Aleppo, and 20 in Al Qamishly in north-eastern Syria) and are now estimated to be fewer than 100.

The bulk of Syrian Jews, like Rabbi Yomtov Yedid, moved to the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s, after President Hafez Al Assad allowed their exodus through the mediation of former US President Jimmy Carter. Currently around 75,000 Syrian Jews live in Brooklyn, New York, and New Jersey. Abraham Hamra, the former chief rabbi of Damascus, left Syria in 1993 and now lives in Israel.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Aug 1, 2016
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