Helping Syria War Victims Poses Special Challenges for Jews and Israelis

Fears of Doing More Harm Than Good Sideline Aid Groups

No Easy Task: Victims of Syria’s brutal civil war are languishing in camps inside and outside the country. Jewish groups and individuals want to help, but there are plenty of obstacles.
getty images
No Easy Task: Victims of Syria’s brutal civil war are languishing in camps inside and outside the country. Jewish groups and individuals want to help, but there are plenty of obstacles.

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 21, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When Moti Kahana first approached a local synagogue in New Jersey, asking to come and speak about the plight of Syrian refugees, the response was skeptical.

“Are you sure about this?” he was asked. “Who is it we’re going to help there?”

But, as the enthusiastic Israeli-born American Jew tells the story, reaction quickly changed when his colleague, a Syrian opposition activist living in the United States, began to describe the horror of the Syrian civil war: mass murders of whole families, women and daughters being raped, and endless waves of refugees fleeing the country.

Moti Kahana
Moti Kahana

“The story touched a nerve with people. They were in tears, standing, cheering, asking questions,” recalled the Syrian opposition figure, who asked to not be named out of fear for his family still living in Syria. He noted that cooperation with American Jews and with Israelis who seek to help Syrian refugees could pose a special danger. “Being part of the opposition is one thing, but having ties with the Israelis is a whole other issue,” he said.

For Israel and for the American Jewish community, this is one of the biggest problems the Syrian crisis poses — the danger that overt gestures of help may only complicate the situation for those in need.

After 26 months of a bloody civil war, international aid groups estimate that more than 1.2 million Syrians have fled the country, most concentrated in overcrowded refugee camps in the bordering countries: Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. With 5,000 to 10,000 refugees leaving their war-torn homeland every day, Syria is emerging as the worst refugee crisis of the decade, adding yet another dimension to the horrific situation of those left inside the country.

Though the American Jewish community and Israel are both known for their quick response to international disasters, neither has responded to this one. The desperate needs of a nation formally at war with Israel have confronted Jews in both places with a dilemma that has rendered their responses extremely cautious and painfully slow.


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!
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • 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.