Sunday, December 24, 2006

How one woman helped save 3,228 Syrian Jews

The amazing story of how one Canadian teacher saved more than 3,000 Syrian Jews - immortalised in a book by Harold Troper - is picked up by Haviv Rettig in the Jerusalem Post.

It was a news item in that newspaper which first aroused Judy Feld Carr's determination to do something about the plight of Syrian Jews. But even now many details of the smuggling operation she masterminded remain secret. (With thanks: Albert)

In 1972, Toronto high school music teacher Judy Feld Carr came across a news article in The Jerusalem Post that told of the tragic deaths of 12 young Syrian Jewish men who ran across a minefield while attempting to flee Syria across the Turkish border.

"I saw the article and I couldn't get over it," Carr recalled last week in a phone interview with the Post 34 years after that fateful publication. The daughter of an independent-minded fur trader from Sudbury, Ontario, she could not sit helpless while Syria's Jewish community suffered. "So my late husband and I decided we had to do something about it." And she did. Spectacularly. Over the next 28 years, Carr masterminded from her Toronto home an international smuggling operation, complete with elaborate secret codes, meetings overseas with foreign agents and extensive bribes for Syrian officials, which rescued 3,228 Jews from persecution.

Much of Carr's work remains secret. "Even today, more is hidden than known, and we still cannot expose in detail many of [Carr's] rescues," noted a recent article in IICC Magazine, the journal of the Israeli Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center. Edited by former senior IDF intelligence officer Brig.-Gen. (res.) Ephraim Lapid, IICC Magazine quoted "foreign sources, who revealed that Carr was involved in the creation of a secret and secure information network with extensive connections," both with "official and secret sources in Israel and private ones in America."

The story began as a local philanthropic initiative. Distraught over the news article, Carr and her husband, Dr. Ronald Feld, organized lectures and a study day on Syrian Jewry. The participants learned of the persecution of Syrian Jews at the hands of the local Arabs and the regime, some of which continues to this day. They learned of the 1947 pogroms in which Arab mobs smashed homes and synagogues in the 2,500-year-old Jewish community of Aleppo; of laws from the 1940's barring Jews from purchasing land; of the Muhabarat (secret police) surveillance of Damascus's Jewish quarter; of the arrest and reported torture of Jews suspected of attempting to leave the country; and of the fact (recently cited in a 2001 US State Department human rights report) that Jews are the only minority in Syria whose religion is denoted in their passports and identity cards.

But, once they understood the problem, "we didn't know what to do," Carr said. "So we decided to do what we knew best from [campaigning for] Russian Jewry. We decided to call Syria." It took almost three weeks ("We were about to give up.") and the help of a Moroccan Jewish phone operator in Montreal to finally get a phone call through to Syria. "The Syrians would shut the line to Canada as soon as we asked for a Jew," Carr recalled.

She finally reached the home of a Jewish woman who was on the payroll of the Muhabarat. Luckily, the woman's husband was the only one home at the time, and though the call from Canada "almost gave him a heart attack," he divulged the name and address of Rabbi Ibrahim Hamra, who would become the Chief Rabbi of Syria.

Following that initial gambit, Carr and her husband "knew we couldn't call again, and it wasn't a good idea to write a letter. So we came up with an idea to send a telegram in French [which is widely spoken in Syria] asking if Rabbi Hamra needed religious books. We prepaid the answer." Ten days later came the response, a veritable shopping list of Jewish books. And so began Carr's communication with the Syrian Jewish community.

Toronto's Beth Tzedec synagogue, the largest in Canada, established the Dr. Ronald Feld Fund for Jews in Arab Lands, and Carr used donations to this fund to finance her work. "We had no overhead, no executive directors, no salaries. We didn't have dinners, cocktail parties, fundraising," she recalled. "We only printed thank-you cards." Even so, she said, she received quiet financial help from Jews throughout North America. "It spread by word of mouth across Canada from British Columbia to Newfoundland. Then there was a fund in Baltimore that sent their money," she said.

At its outset, the Beth Tzedec fund "was only a link to the rabbi in Damascus, and later on to rabbis in Allepo and Kamashili," the only three towns in Syria where Jews were legally permitted to reside - and even then restricted to ghettos, forbidden to own cars or to travel. "The rabbis wanted books, tefillin (phylacteries), tallisim (prayer shawls)," Carr related.

Soon, the telegrams and Judaica shipments became a code.

"I started inserting words into the telegrams, like 'who's in prison?'" she related. "Then the rabbi would answer with a name, [hidden] inside my address."

In order to verify that the rabbi had received the books, Carr would write one verse of psalms inside a book, and Rabbi Hamra would reply with the next one. Eventually, the verses became a way of discussing events, and Carr began to receive updates and news from the community. As the code developed it took on additional elements, including terms taken from Chinese cooking and alcoholic beverages. Carr herself was codenamed "Gin."

The operation was expanded to Aleppo when another Toronto woman, Hanna Cohen, whose brother was a rabbi in Aleppo, decided to visit him, "taking her life into her hands." Carr recalled that Cohen was arrested and interrogated, but then returned to Canada. She carried with her, hidden in her clothing, a letter for Carr "from the rabbis in Aleppo begging for books and begging to get out of Syria."

And so, the network grew steadily. Through Syrian Jews who had escaped to Canada on their own, Carr slowly developed a network of contacts in and outside Syria. She communicated with Syrian government functionaries, judges and even Muhabarat officers, all of whom were brought together by the knowledge that there was money to be made in "selling Jews" to Judy Carr.

She used this network to "to ransom the [Jews] and to pay off people on the escape route and negotiate prices." She funneled bribe money to Syrian officials through third parties and negotiated the Jews' release personally. Over time, with the cooperation of Israel's secret services, Carr had operatives moving in and out of Syria as well as ready in Turkey and Lebanon to collect escaping Jews and ferry them safely to Israel or elsewhere."

Read article in full

5 comments:

Paul said...

What a woman is Judy Feld Carr.
I MUST read her book.
Paul in Grand Blanc,Mi,USA

kad said...

heyy im doing a research on you. im really impressed on wht u did!
happy eva after

kad said...

yay can you plz tell me wht u did?
tell me soo much and you look cool lolz

kad said...

heyy wht up why dont u answer me plz say some thing i no u might be busy so sorry if ur tooooooo busy lolz

kad said...

um at least can you answer me