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Tv Brings News of Syrian Jews to Relatives, Friends in Israel

March 13, 1992
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Through the magic of electronics, Israelis of Syrian origin welcomed relatives and friends whom they had not seen in more than 40 years into their living rooms last week.

The segment on Israel Television’s primetime evening news broadcast March 4 showed glimpses of a handful of the 4,500 Jews who live in Damascus, Aleppo and Kamishli.

Footage for the Israeli television program reportedly came from a German television camera crew working with Syrian government assistance.

The broadcast triggered intense responses, especially among Israelis who recognized their kin — a brother, an uncle, a cousin — all grown so much older than remembered.

“Many people telephoned me and spoke emotionally about people they have not seen in 45 years,” Mickey Faineh, secretary of the Association of Syrian Jews, told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv.

“We got chills as we watched our relatives and friends who live in Syria,” he said.

Many in the television audience recorded the program on their VCRs and watched the tape over and over again.

“It’s shocking, it’s painful. I watch it again and again and cry with my whole family,” said a man of Syrian origin who withheld his name.

“Perhaps in these pictures are our own brothers, our own flesh and blood, whom we don’t recognize because they have changed over the years,” he said.

Viewers familiar with the synagogue in the Jewish neighborhood of Damascus said it had not changed at all, Faineh reported. “Many of us prayed there and had our weddings and Bar Mitzvahs there,” he said.

The broadcast included interviews with Rabbi Avraham Hamra, small-business owners, the neighborhood butcher, a merchant, a 90-year-old man and Rosette Matar, a hospital worker.

All attested to an improved attitude toward the Jewish community by the Syrian regime.

They said there has been a lessening of restrictions on traveling abroad for medical purposes or for meetings with relatives. Matar said she was permitted to go to Switzerland for an operation.

At the elementary school, Jewish children were shown during morning inspection, reciting the slogan of the ruling Ba’ath Party: “One Arab nation with an eternal mission — unity, liberty and socialism.”

A Bar Mitzvah ceremony at the synagogue was shown, conducted in Hebrew. According to the broadcast, Jewish schoolchildren are given Bible lessons in Hebrew.

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