Syria Permits Jewish Head to Attend Brussels Meetings

The presence of the head of Syria’s Jewish community at meetings of world Jewish leaders last week in Brussels was a “clear, political signal from Syria,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

A few months ago, Syria would not have let the Jewish leader, Yousef Jajati, go to the meetings of the WJC and the European Jewish Congress, said Steinberg, who was in Europe last week for a series of meetings on Jewish issues, specifically World War II restitution.

Steinberg, in an interview, called Jajati’s presence “very significant.”

The WJC met Sept. 12 with Jajati, who talked about the conditions of Syrian Jews.

Jajati said at the meeting that some 250 Syrian Jews now live in Damascus and 50 live in Aleppo, Steinberg said.

In October 1994, the exodus of Syrian Jews came to a close when Syrian Chief Rabbi Avraham Hamra immigrated to Israel. The emigration, which began in April 1992, brought nearly all of Syria’s 4,000 Jews out of the country.

Jajati called the condition of the remaining Jews “excellent,” adding that three synagogues and a minyan exist in the capital city, Steinberg said. Children can get a Jewish education, but there is no rabbi in Damascus. And once a month, a shochet, or ritual slaughterer, comes from Istanbul, Jajati apparently said at the meeting.

Steinberg added that the Syrian Jewish community “could become a bridge” in building a peace accord between Israel and Syria.

The Syrian Jewish leader also invited the WJC officials to visit Syria. The officials accepted the invitation, Steinberg said.

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