In 1948, Jews around the world celebrated the creation of the newly established State of Israel. After millennia of exile and centuries of struggle, the Promised Land would once again be a safe haven for them, except that not all countries wanted to let their Jews go. Just like Pharaoh of old, these governments hated their Jews, but refused to allow them to leave.

For centuries, Jews have lived in the area now known as Syria. And while there had been periods of persecution, things became particularly difficult after 1948. The Jews were not only second class citizens, they were also often victims of violent attacks. Like their counterparts in the Soviet Union, Jews who were caught trying to escape to Israel were frequently jailed and tortured, while some even received the death penalty.

Until the 1990s, Jews were restricted from what many of us perceive to be basic citizen rights, such as buying and selling property, obtaining a driver’s licence and working for the government. Additionally, Jewish travel was severely restricted, and Jews traveling abroad often had to leave monetary deposits and “hostage” relatives to insure their return. Some of these harsh measures were lifted in the 1990s as part of a treaty with the United States.  Ironically, as was often the case in medieval Europe, at the same time that the Jews were restricted in their actions and movements, the government often protected its Jews from common violence.

Still, the Jews of Syria longed for freedom. Against all odds, thousands managed to flee. Many resettled in America, while others made their way to Israel. The population that had counted itself in the tens of thousands in 1948, is estimated today to number less than a few dozens. The journeys of Syrian Jews from persecution to freedom are each individually inspiring, as are the tales of those who worked fervently behind the scenes to enable their escape.  

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