In 1977, as Syria’s remaining Jews faced an ever-worsening situation, Congressman Stephen Solarz—who represented a Brooklyn district then home to some 25,000 Jews of Syrian origin—managed to bring twelve young women safely to the U.S. The website On the Rescue Front tells the story:
After Syrian independence from France in 1946, the 1947 partition plan, and the 1948 founding of Israel, Jews in Syria faced terrible discrimination, including several deadly pogroms and riots. By the time of the Six-Day War in 1967, there were an estimated 5,000 Jews in Syria, down from 40,000-45,000 in 1948. Jews could not work for the government or banks, or own telephones or driver’s licenses. Jewish property and passports were seized; bank accounts were frozen; Jewish schools were closed; the Jewish cemetery in Damascus was paved over. A 1964 law restricted Jews from traveling more than five kilometers from their hometowns. Jews who were allowed to leave for medical or business reasons had to leave behind money and family members as collateral.
The three largest Jewish communities, in Damascus, Aleppo, and Kamishli, were placed under house arrest for eight months following the Six-Day War. Jews began escaping in secret, sometimes with help from abroad, even though the penalty for attempting to escape or helping someone to escape was either imprisonment with hard labor or death, and any family members left behind could be imprisoned. Most of those who escaped were young single men. . . . As a result, by 1977, there were 500 unmarried Jewish women in their late teens and early twenties who had no marriage prospects within the Jewish community and who were not allowed to marry non-Jews.
Representative Solarz traveled to Damascus in December 1976, where he spoke with Jewish leaders as well as Syrian government officials. . . . [After Solarz lobbied the Carter administration], Secretary of State Cyrus Vance spoke with President Hafez al-Assad about the young women in February and May 1977; [then] National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski put Congressman Solarz in touch with President Carter, who made a personal plea to the Syrian president in May. Assad eventually agreed to let twelve women leave through proxy marriages.
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