The San Francisco Chronicle has this important feature by Brooke Anderson on the pitiful remnant of Syria's Jews. The Syrian government needs to show it is treating its Jews well to gain favour with the US government, but few would publically flaunt their faith:
"Even though most of his friends and relatives have left, Albert Cameo says he will never abandon Syria.
"My family has always been here," said Cameo, 68, a retired tailor and president of Syria's estimated 200-member Jewish community. "It's important for some of us to stay here to keep our traditions."
Most Jewish Syrians left in waves after the creation of Israel in 1948 and the enactment of harsh Syrian laws barring them from owning property, withdrawing funds from bank accounts and traveling.
"If they had let Jews go back and forth, no one would have left," said Joey Allaham, 34, who visited Syria last summer for the first time since leaving in 1992.
Like Allaham, who owns a chain of restaurants in New York, many Syrian Jews migrated to the United States. But others are scattered around the globe, residing in Europe, Israel and Latin America. Those who stayed behind say they did so because of advanced age, health issues, reluctance to move or unwillingness to face an uncertain future.
Today, a reporter must solicit permission from both the ministry of information and Syrian intelligence service to visit the lone functioning synagogue in the old Jewish Quarter in Damascus, which at its height had some 20 temples. The neighborhood is characterized by abandoned and dilapidated buildings and shuttered storefronts.
"It is very depressing to walk down the empty streets," said Allaham.
Most Jews are elderly and many residents are Palestinians, some of whom still pay rent to expatriate Jewish landlords through the United Nations.
Ahmad Ghaneim, a Palestinian Muslim, says most of his Jewish neighbors left in 1992 after the late President Hafez Assad lifted a 45-year travel restriction on Jewish Syrians, which marked the last wave of Jewish emigration from the country.
"It was very difficult when they left because they were my good friends," Ghaneim recalled. "When one family left, their relatives followed."
On many Saturday mornings, a visitor can find as many as a dozen people praying at the lone synagogue under the protection of police security. And when Amin Halwani, a 53-year-old tailor, left a recent service with his skullcap still atop his head, a police officer reminded him to take it off to avoid attracting attention on the streets.
"Thirty years ago, life was difficult. If the police walked by our house, we trembled. That's why people left," recalled 70-year-old Rachel Cameo, Albert's sister. "Now, they are here to protect us. Everything is easier."
In a recent e-mail message, Imad Moustapha, Syrian ambassador to the United States, told The Chronicle that "all properties owned by Syrian Jews have been left untouched for when they choose to visit or return."
Some observers see a political motive for the police protection and comments by the ambassador.
The government of President Bashar Assad - Hafez Assad's son - is well aware that persecution of the nation's remaining Jews could create international pressure at a time when he is seeking rapprochement with the United States and a possible peace deal with Israel.
To date, few Syrian Jews have accepted the invitation to return home.
Allaham says returning to Syria would be impractical for him and others who have established careers and families abroad.
And Ephraim Gabbai, associate rabbi at the Syrian congregation Magen David in lower Manhattan, says many are still afraid to return no matter what the Syrian government says.
"I would be scared to reveal my faith publicly," he said.
Stanley Urman, executive editor of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, a New York coalition of 27 Jewish organizations, says any peace agreement with Israel should include the issue of compensation for Syrian Jews who left clandestinely during the long travel ban. The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, a group affiliated with Urman's coalition, estimates the value of confiscated Jewish property throughout the Arab world at more than $100 billion.
"It's a matter of principle," said Urman. "Elements on both sides need reconciliation."
In 2007, Urman's group lobbied the U.S. Congress to pass House Resolution 185, which granted first-time-ever recognition to Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The resolution affirms that the U.S. government must recognize that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict be treated equally when negotiating peace agreements.
Meanwhile, Rachael Cameo hopes some Jews will return and help restore the Jewish Quarter to its former glory.
"In the afternoon, people would sit outside their front doors with coffee and sweets," she recalled with sad nostalgia. "They would dress well just to visit each other."Read article in full
*Associate rabbi Ephraim Gabbai, although himself of Egyptian and Iraqi parents, speaks for his US Syrian congregation