Carol: To the Basketball Tournament to benefit the needy.
Jack: Wasn't there one last week?
Carol: When you're a Syrian Jew, the charitable functions never seem to end, but I kind of like it that way.
They are refered to as Sephardic Jews.
Charles: A soccer tournament. All the proceeds are going to the IDF.
Joey: I love this community and I love Syrian Jews. We're always trying to help out our brothers in whichever ways we can.
Syrian Jews derive their origin from two groups: those who inhabited the region of today's Syria from the ancient times and those Sephardim who fled to Syria after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492 CE). There were large communities in Aleppo, Damascus, and Beirut for centuries, and a smaller community in Qamishli. In the early twentieth century a large percentage of Syrian Jews emigrated to the U.S., Central and South America and Israel. Today there are almost no Jews left in Syria. The largest Syrian-Jewish community is located in Brooklyn, New York, and estimated at 40,000.
There have been Jews in Syria since ancient times: according to legend, since the time of King David, and certainly since early Roman times. A further group arrived following the expulsion from Spain, and quickly took a leading position in the community. Still later, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some Jews from Italy and elsewhere, known as Señores Francos, settled in Syria for trading reasons, while retaining their European nationalities.
In the nineteenth century the commercial importance of Aleppo and Damascus underwent a marked decline, and many families left Syria for Egypt. Beginning around 1850, and with increasing frequency until the First World War, Jews left Syria and Egypt for western countries, mainly Great Britain, the United States, Mexico and Argentina. This pattern of migration largely followed the fortunes of the cotton trade, in which many Syrian Jews were engaged.
Beginning in 1991, the remnants of the Damascus Jewish community (Arabic Yehud ash-Sham) were permitted under the regime of Hafez al-Assad to leave Syria for the United States provided they did not emigrate to Israel. Within a few months, thousands of Syrian Jews made their way to Brooklyn with the help of philanthropic leaders of the Syrian Jewish community.
Present-day New York Community
edit New York
Syrian Jews first immigrated to New York around 1908. Initially they lived on the Lower East Side; later settlements were in Bensonhurst and Ocean Parkway in Flatbush, Brooklyn, this last being the current centre of the community. The community was formerly centered on the "Magen David" synagogue; today the leading synagogue is "Shaare Zion" on Ocean Parkway. Other synagogues are:
"Beth Torah" on Ocean Parkway, for the group that lived outside the main pocket of residence
"Sephardic Synagogue" under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Shamah
"Ahi Ezer" and "Shevet Achim" for Jews originating in Damascus
"Bnei Yitzhaq" Sephardic Synagogue
"B'nai Yosef Synagogue"
"Ahaba Ve Ahva", for Egyptian Jews
"Har Halebanon" and "Sephardic Lebanese Congregation", for Lebanese Jews
Congregation "Ateret Torah", for the more Haredi Syrian Jews (known to mainstream Syrians as "black-hats")
"Magen David of Union Square", in downtown Manhattan
"Safra synagogue of New York" in Manhattan 62nd Street
There is also a Sephardic Community Center.
The community is mainly based in Brooklyn, NY and Deal, New Jersey and boasts of financial and commercial success. This is the culmination of hard work and immigrant connections formed in the early 1900's. Additionally, it is related to multi-generational businesses; children are encouraged to stay within the family business. Those who pursue higher education are encouraged to remain within the familial structure. A common phenomenon is the lack of liberal arts or non-career-driven degrees.
Main article: Pizmonim
Syrian Jews have a large repertoire of hymns, sung on social and ceremonial occasions such as weddings and bar mitzvahs. Pizmonim are also used in the prayers of Sabbath and holidays. Some of these are ancient and others were composed more recently as adaptations of popular Arabic songs; sometimes they are written or commissioned for particular occasions, and contain coded allusions to the name of the person honoured. There is a standard Pizmonim book called "Shir uShbaha Hallel veZimrah", in which the hymns are classified according to the musical mode (maqam) to which the melody belongs. As time passes and more and more pizmonim are getting lost, efforts are being made by the Sephardic Pizmonim Project to preserve as many pizmonim as possible.
Attitude Toward Conversion
In the early twentieth century the Syrian Jewish communities of New York and Buenos Aires adopted rulings designed to discourage intermarriage. The communities would not carry out conversions to Judaism; they would not recognise the conversions of other communities or admit converts to join Syrian synagogues; marriages between Syrian Jews and converts would not be recognised, and the children of such marriages would not be allowed to join the Syrian community.
Hacham Uzziel, then Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, was asked to rule on the validity of this ban. He acknowledged the right of the community to refuse to carry out conversions and to regard as invalid conversions carried out by other communities in which marriage is a factor. At the same time he cautioned that persons converted out of genuine conviction and recognised by established rabbinic authorities should not be regarded as non-Jews, even if they were not allowed to join the Syrian community.
Sephardic settlers came with the 1st explorers (1492+/-) Many Ashkenazi Jew came in early 1800s. Syrians came after the Suez Canal was opened in the late 1800's. Rejected by Ashkenzic Jews as non- Jews. Called "Turks". We called Italians "I-T's", we called ourselves "SY'S" and the Ashkenazi "J-W's" or "J-Dubs" for short. It stands for Jewish. It was simply to recognize the difference in our language. Immigrants and the first gen. American speak in their Parent's tongue. Unlike the "Jeffersons" of TV fame the wealthy members of our community are to staying in the community to help others "Make it".
The twin driving goals and focus of the Syrian community, and the most important thing to any given individual Syrian Jew, is both money, and denigrating non-Syrians. Perhaps more than any other people on the face of the planet, the Syrian universe revolves around the pursuit of money, and certainly among Jews, Syrians are legendary for their cruelty and spite towards "less fortunate" Jews who are not Syrian.
A parable was told by one Rabbi Levy, in which a Syrian Jew asked an Ashkenazi (European) Jew why he was so poor. "Look at this street," the Syrian taunted, "I own every house on it - even your own." The Ashkenazi smiled and responded, "To be as rich as a Syrian, you must have a true love of money. A love of money for money's sake. Your heart must live and love on money. But I do not -- I cannot love money. I love my family, my children, my Torah etc..."
The Syrian community has been characterized by its extreme arrogance, obsession with money (and subsequent incredible wealth), and their general dislike for converts, Ashkenazim and non-Syrians in particular. Syrians do not accept converts, even sincere converts, as Jewish - despite this being illegal according to Jewish law (which few Syrians are familiar with). Among Syrians, Ashkenazim are derogatively called "J-dubs". Syrians generally do not recognize anyone who is not Syrian-Jewish as being Jewish at all, despite genealogical evidence which suggests most Syrian Jews are at least three-fourths Arab.
Yet ironically, despite attacking most other Jewish groups as not being as Jewish as themselves, the Syrian-Jewish community is infamous for its actual lack of observance in the Jewish faith. There has never been a Syrian Rabbi of note or fame beyond the Syrian community, and contrary to other Sephardic Jews, Syrians seem to have little interest in performing the commandments of the Torah beyond those that offer them immediate financial gain. The most important thing to a Syrian Jew is money; the community epitomizes the deadly sin of "avoda zorah" - Idol Worship. The difference being that their idol fits in a wallet and jangles in a purse.