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!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • 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.