The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

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A reminder of the world in which we live…

Posted by vmsalama on July 19, 2007

I had a refreshing little wake up call (no pun intended) yesterday while attempting to conduct a phone interview.  While on a quest to find a story to write for an English-language Damascus-based magazine, I thought it might be interesting to chronicle the lives of a group of Syrian Jews who immigrated to the United States.  One Rabbi, who I will not name out of respect, is especially known to tout himself as a Syrian (Mizrahi) Jew whose roots trace back to Damascus.  He is rather outspoken and I thought he’d be excellent as the “main character” of the story.

 Anyhow, I managed to track the fine Rabbi down and rang him yesterday morning on his mobile phone.  After explaining to him my hopes for the article, he snapped, “Are you kidding?  That’s dangerous?” 

 “Pardon me?” I asked, rather surprised.

“You are asking me to put my community at risk – exposing ourselves in a Syrian magazine – we don’t know who reads this!  It’s too dangerous, absolutely not.”

I tried to assure the good Rabbi that I would never do anything that I felt jeopardized his safety or the safety of any community.  However, he could not be convinced.

“This is final,” he said.  “Please understand that.” 

 And so I did.  Sure, I guess I can understand his concern – but it was an interesting contradiction.  On his website, he appeared so proud of his roots, and yet, he doesn’t want to talk about them with the people who might understand it the most.  I am quite certain that he (or his community) would be at no risk at all by speaking with me about the legacy of Syria’s Jews, particularly since the people who read this magazine are most probably those who drool at the prospects of establishing business ties with the Israelis.  I have done a lot of research on Israel’s Mizrahim communities and it happens that they (the Arab Jews) are often the most Orthodox in their practices, many believe, so to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Arab world and reinforce their committment to the Jewish State. 

In any case, I guess I had forgotten for a moment the depth of the tensions that lie between both communities.  For this, I thank the Rabbi.


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