In the midst of the bloody civil war that has wracked Syria since March 2011, some are taking the time to reflect not only on the 20,000 lives that have been lost, but also on the more than 3,200 Jews that were once saved in the region.
The individual responsible for saving these men, women and children, who made up two-thirds of the Syrian Jewish population, was a Jewish Canadian mother of six with a promising career in musicology.
Judy Feld Carr, now in her 70s, once risked her life to save Jews living in Damascus, Aleppo, and Qamishli, but she has yet to set foot in Syria.
Over the years, Feld Carr has been accused of being a Mossad spy or working for other government agencies, but her actions were conducted purely independently.
“Let’s face it: I’m a mommy who lives in Toronto. I’m not an expert in foreign intrigue… It doesn’t blend at all with what my former profession was and being a mother of six kids. But the fact was that, after a long period of time, some of the men and women who were in the [Mossad] certainly respected what I was doing,” Feld Carr told The Times of Israel.
Even more remarkable is the fact that Feld Carr was an average citizen with no prior negotiation skills or training, yet her rescue efforts from the early 1970s to 2001 did not lead to even a single casualty of the thousands she attempted to help.
Approximately only 16 Jews remain in Syria today, Feld Carr estimates, with those remaining in the region choosing to do so voluntarily.
Feld Carr’s involvement with the Jews in the area began after she read an article in the Jerusalem Post about twelve young Jews who died after stepping on a minefield while trying to escape from the Syrian town of Qamishli. She and her late husband knew little about Syria, but they wanted to assist Syrian Jews with even a small gesture.
They had to find creative ways to communicate as the Syrians cut all lines to Canada after the first successful call Feld Carr made to the Jewish community in Damascus via a Montreal operator. The couple decided to send a package of religious items and books to the local Jewish community.
The Felds continued to send packages to the community, but also wanted a way to communicate with the head rabbi. Knowing the Syrian government would examine each package, the Felds started communicating by hiding coded messages in the books in the form of French song lyrics.
The idea of getting Jews out of Syria seemed a bit far-fetched to the Felds at the time. They were originally only trying to make a contact with someone in the region because the community had been shut off from the world since 1948.
It was not until a Canadian woman from Feld Carr’s community who had family in Syria begged her to help her tortured brother escape the region did she begin contemplating how to rescue the Syrian Jews.
After the woman returned from visiting her brother in Syria, she handed Feld Carr a letter from the Chief Rabbi, which she concealed in her undergarments on her trip back to Canada. The letter read “Our children are your children. Get us out of here!”
Feld Carr began finding ways to bribe lower officials to smuggle Syrian Jews out of the anti-Semitic country one at a time.
She accepted secret donations by Canadian Jews for the work and using the money as ransom to rescue more Jews from the region. For 28 years, she rescued Jewish individuals, prisoners, and families, opening their lives to freedom and opportunity.
Few could have imagined that a young mother concerned with raising a household and building a career for herself would later be given some of the most prestigious awards for her heroic efforts and success in saving a Jewish population as part of a secret double life.
In June of 2012, Feld Carr received Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction, given to her by President Shimon Peres himself. On the same day, she was also awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Feld Carr has also been the recipient of the Order of Canada, the highest award given by the citizens of Canada to an individual, the Saul Hayes Human Rights Award of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and the Simon Wiesenthal Award for Tolerance, Justice and Human Rights.
She can now rest assured that due to her efforts, 3,000 Syrian Jews and their families are not victims of the current war between the troops of President Bashar al-Assad and the anti-government forces.
Danielle Chazen is a freelance reporter and technology event coordinator with a degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.