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!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • 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.