Memories of Jews Linger in Rubble of Syria's Ruined Second City

Letter From Aleppo

Carlos Palma

By Anna Therese Day

Published November 27, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

As we wound our way through the rebel-controlled neighborhoods of the decimated streets of Aleppo, I could hardly recognize what was once one of Syria’s most prosperous cities.

This part of Syria’s second-largest metropolis, a town once storied for its ethnic diversity, was now a pockmarked jumble of cratered ruins, even as life in government-controlled areas of the city continued in relative normalcy.

Mahmoud, my guide through the rebel-held part of the city, was giving me a cook’s tour of the recently bombed areas, when suddenly he halted. “We’re here,” he announced with a quick glance. “The Jewish cemetery.”

What lay before me was an abandoned cemetery sprinkled with concrete, shrapnel, and ammunition — all a product of recent government bombing. Upon closer inspection, the tombstones revealed a familiar surprise: Hebrew inscriptions.

Mahmoud paused, no doubt anticipating my surprise.

“This city has many, many layers of ghosts,” he responded with a knowing gaze.

Like others in this article working with the Free Syrian Army, Mahmoud, a 26-year-old English teacher who joined the rebels after the government’s brutal crackdown on Aleppo, asked that his full name not be used to protect his family. He is a pluralist-oriented, progressive young man. So I had shared with him that I had spent a significant amount of time working and studying recently in Israel, where I had worked toward my Master of Arts in political science from Ben-Gurion University. I also asked him about the Jewish community of Aleppo, explaining that family members of my Israeli landlord were among the 30,000 Syrian Jews that had fled Aleppo and other Syrian cities since Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Now, however, we were not focused on history. Mahmoud was showing me the war’s most recent battleground — the Old City of Aleppo, which also happened to be the site of the city’s historic Jewish neighborhood.

Most Syrians I encountered in Turkish refugee camps and in rebel-held Syria during October and November remembered the Syrian Jewish community and were quite willing to discuss this part of their past. They also spoke of their own views and experiences related to Israel as Syrians living under a government that demonized it.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.