Friday, January 24, 2014

What is the truth about Jobar?

 Over the last year, reports have been rife that the Jobar synagogue, one of Syria's oldest, has been destroyed. Other reports say the synagogue is intact. Adam Blitz reviews the evidence in the Times of Israel. One thing is certain: both the Assad regime and the opposition rebels are using the synagogue as a propaganda football: 

Ideology aside, the headline of The Times of Israel’s article, “Syria’s ‘Destroyed’ Ancient Synagogue is Still Intact”, should not come as a revelation. The video posted by the Dubai-based pan-Arab al-Aan broadcasting corporation on 23rd June 2013 entitled, “Jobar Synagogue and Bashar al-Assad?” [24] shows some damage to the traditional poplar-beamed ceiling of synagogue and its roof. There is also some residual debris; but it is fully evident that the synagogue is far from destroyed. Moreover, the interview with F.S.A. fighters indicates that they are protecting the synagogue – a claim not too distant from The Times of Israel’s story (except without reference to the much sought after Judaica).

Jobar Synagogue. Hole in poplar-beamed ceiling. From al-Aan video June 2013

On close inspection al-Aan’s account consists of earlier video footage from March. It also insists that Jobar was “the oldest synagogue in the world”, that it housed the oldest Torah in the world” and that town of Jobar was once home tothe second largest concentration of Jews”.  Despite these grandiose and false claims the footage contains important evidence. Whether the video was disseminated by al-Assad’s foes or not, it is a critical witness in a conflict where validation is increasingly dependent upon videography and partisan reportage.  

The task, of course, is to know where fact begins and credibility ends. What is apparent is that December’s coverage in The Times of Israel takes matters one step further. The article omits the collateral damage to the ceiling and roof. No mention is made of the very real consequence of regime bombardment if the F.S.A remains encamped in the sacred site.  Of the scrolls, one is noticeably desecrated (although there is nothing to associate the object in the photograph with Jobar as the newspaper rightly reports). More significant is the image of the synagogue with mysterious “card” in situ. It does not, of its own accord, constitute proof of the synagogue’s endurance in December of 2013.   Surely the Skype-friendly rebels can do better than that.
The largely intact Jobar synagogue with the mysterious 'card' on the rail shows the picture was taken recently

What the image does show, which previous video coverage from March and June had not shown, is proof of a prayer hall bereft. Gone is the large menorah which sat upon the stone attributed to Elijah; so too are the many hangings and carpets that once “muffled” the walls as Colin Thubron, author of “Mirror to Damascus”, put it [25]. At its very least, The Times of Israel prayer hall photo may be one of the most recent images to emerge from Jobar post-June 2013.  

Sadly, if the coverage from April of this year helped to preserve the synagogue, perhaps because the site provided no further political purpose, the latest news may yet have the opposite effect.  Judaica, Syria’s Jewish past, has gained currency. It has entered the discourse of rebel strategy, whether in actuality or virtuality. Syria’s Jewish legacy now stands and falls with international perception of a conflict far away from these shores.

Read article in full

Prisoners for plundered Judaica in Syria?

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