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New York Syrian Jewish Community W Elcoming 12 Proxy Brides from Syria

August 12, 1977
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community is preparing to welcome 12 Jewish women from tonight, who were married by proxy in Damascus to American Jews they have not yet met. Rabbi Abraham Hecht of the Syrian Jewish community’s Share Zion Synagogue, who has been active for about 10 years in attempting to secure the right to emigrate for Syria’s estimated 5000 Jews, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the permission to emigrate for the 12 women is “a symbolic act and a gesture which may lead to the opening of the doors.”

After months of secret discussions, including a personal plea from President Carter, Syria’s President Hafez Assad gave his consent for proxy marriages, performed by a rabbi, are legal in Syria but not in New York State. According to Stephen Shalom, a leader in the Syrian Jewish community here, the marriages will not be considered binding until “such time as both (parties) agree to go ahead.” Until that time, the women will live in private homes.

Most of the proxy brides do not speak English According to Shalom, English-language instructions will be provided and jobs have already been found for a few of the brides. The women are being admitted to the United States under the special parole authority of the Attorney General and will be free to remain here even if they choose not to re-marry their proxy spouses.

While most single Jewish men in their twenties and early thirties have reportedly managed to slip out of Syria, those remaining generally do not wish to marry, fearing marriage will prevent them from leaving at the first opportunity. There are an estimated 500 Jewish women in Syria who are believed unlikely to find husbands in the Jewish community there.


Last December, Rep. Stephen Solarz (D.NY), whose district encompasses the Ocean Parkway area in Brooklyn which is populated by 25,000 Jews of Syrian descent, visited Damascus. The fate of the young women who cannot find husbands was the main concern of the Syrian Jewish community, according to Solarz. He said he raised the matter with Syrian Foreign Ministry officials who “were not unsympathetic to the humanitarian concerns about which I spoke.”

On his return to the United States, Solarz said he got in touch with Syrian Jewish leaders in his district. One was Shalom, who was raised in the Ocean Parkway area and now lives in Kings Point, Long Island. The other was Bert Chabot, a member of the Brooklyn community. As a result, Solarz said, Shalom and Chabot went to Damascus in March. They met with Selim Totah, who heads the Jewish community there, and were given a list of the 500 women.

When Secretary of State Cyrus Vance raised the matter with Assad during his first Mideast tour in February, Assad’s response was not discouraging, it was reported. Subsequently, Solarz discussed the problem with Carter at a meeting arranged by his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Carter brought up the issue with Assad at their Geneva meeting May 9.

Since Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Jews have not been allowed to leave Syria, Hecht said. But since the Yom Kippur War, restrictions on the Jews have eased somewhat, he added. He said that he is hopeful that more Jews who desire to leave will be allowed to do soon grounds of the humanitarian appeals of religious freedom and reunification of families.

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