Syran Jewry’s spiritual leader arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport this week, marking the end of the dramatic and secret exodus of most of Syria’s Jews.
On Tuesday, Rabbi Avraham Hamra descended the E1 A1 airplane from New York onto the tarmac, where he was engulfed by public officials, dignitaries and relatives, while hordes of reporters were kept at bay by zealous airport security personnel.
“Only a week ago, I sat with the rabbi for three hours ( in New York ) and he told me his dream” to make aliyah, said Uri Gordon, head of the Jewish Agency’s department of immigration and absorption, as the airplane landed. “Now his dream has come true. It’s a historic day.”
At a ceremony inside an airport hall, Hamra, who arrived with his wife, mother and six children, recited the Shehecheyanu blessing — which thanks God for “sustaining us and bringing us to this day” — and gave thanks in flawless Hebrew for the help given the Syian Jewish community over the years.
He said he believed his arrival in Israel marked the start of a wave of Syrian Jewish aliyah from New York, “because this is our home.”
Since 1948, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee helped sustain the Syrian Jewish community with more than $10 million in grants raised by the United Jewish Appeal.
Since April of 1992, 3,800 Jews left Syria, most of them for the United States, and 1,300 of them were then brought to Israel by the Jewish Agency in a covert operation.
During the ceremony, Hamra sat at a table in front of a big welcome banner, flanked on one side by Gordon, and on the other by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Jewish Agency Acting Chairman Yehiel Leket and Absorption Minister Yair Tsaban.
Peres praised Hamra for carefully navigating Jewish life “in a land in belligerent relations with Israel. He did it so as not to endanger Jewish lives, or Jewishness, and to provide hope” to his flock to come “back home.”
“The redemption of Jewish life begins again,” said Peres.
The occasion signals that “Israel is the state of the Jewish people, open to anyone who wants to come, especially those under oppression,” said Leket. “It is our responsibility to save them, rescue them and bring them back to our home-land.”
Leket said that in talks with Assad on behalf of his people, Hamra had displayed “combined leadership qualities and Jewish wisdom” and that “this allowed us to bring out (Syrian) Jewry.”
Michael Schneider, executive vice president of the JDC, lauded Hamra for overseeing the use of UJA aid to the community over the years.
“He took care of the disadvantaged and the needy with courage and integrity and preserved Jewish continuity, sometimes at great risk to himself.
“You have now come home with your mission accomplished,” Schneider said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.