The two women in this story, whose personal story could make a great Hollywood thriller, are now living in Ashkelon’s Absorption Center. These last Jews to live in Aleppo, Syria, were smuggled out of the bombarded city in an intricate operation carried out a year ago by Free Syrian Army Muslim men. This operation was financed and run by Moti Kahana, an American Israeli businessman who for the last four hears has been in close contact with Syrian insurgents. 88 year-old Miriam (not her real name) and her 53 year-old daughter were smuggled from Aleppo through the Turkish border to Istanbul and from there were brought to Israel.
Miriam kept a Jewish life style, and continued to eat kosher food despite it being difficult to obtain in the midst of civil war. Miriam’s second daughter Linda (not her real name), along with her Muslim husband and his three children from his first marriage escaped with her to Istanbul. However, Since Linda converted to Islam, the couple didn’t want to go to Israel and, in any case, were not entitled to enter Israel under the Law of Return which is applicable to Jews only. They, in the end, chose to return to Syria.
Miriam knows biblical Hebrew from the prayer book and at a young age attended Aleppo’s main synagogue, where the legendary Hebrew Bible manuscript, the Aleppo codex, was kept. In retaliation to the 1947 UN “Partition Plan,” this synagogue was set on fire and destroyed.
The Jewish family lived in extremely difficult conditions in the area of Aleppo which is in an area controlled by the Syrian government forces. Water and electricity were cut off after this area was severely bombarded by the insurgents. The journey from Aleppo to Turkey lasted 12 hours. On the way the family was stopped at a Jabhat al-Nusra road block. Disguised as Muslims, and only after a grueling investigation, were they allowed to continue on their way.
“This is the last Jewish family from Aleppo,” stated Moti Kahana. This brings to closure 2700 years of Jewish life in this city. Kahana criticized the Jewish Agency for not permitting the converted daughter to enter Israel and de facto abandoned them in Istanbul. In return the Jewish Agency blamed Kahana for luring the family to leave Aleppo with the promise to bring them to the United States, and that the family initially did not want to go to Israel. The Jewish Agency stressed that they offered Linda’s family to arrive in Israel, initially as tourists, but they have refused the offer.