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Damascus Minyan

Eric Umansky encounters merchants, widows, and secret police at a Syrian synagogue

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the Damascus synagogue
Last operating synagogue in Damascus’s Jewish Quarter

Last July, journalist Eric Umansky and his fiancée Sara headed to Damascus for a six-month fellowship to study Arabic. After their daily lessons, they roamed the city, discovering loquacious taxi drivers, a lively café culture, and, come the High Holidays, one of the few—if not only—operating synagogues in a city once populated by tens of thousands of Jews.

Eric is back now, full of stories from his trip. He shares a few of them, the most dramatic of which involves a rather disturbing run-in with the synagogue’s purported “Shabbos goy.”

Eric Umansky in Damascus
Left: Sara and Eric in the foyer at the Orient Club, one of Damascus’s finest banquet halls. Above their heads, portraits of President Hafez al-Assad and “Junior.” Right: Congregants at the synagogue.

Photos courtesy of Eric Umansky

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As to the women not marrying because there were no children, perhaps their children and/or grandchildren went to the US, France, Canada or Israel.

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Damascus Minyan

Eric Umansky encounters merchants, widows, and secret police at a Syrian synagogue

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