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Israel & Judaism through a Fresh Lens
Israel & Judaism through a Fresh Lens

"And what is Aleppo?"


"And what is Aleppo?" As a kid who grew up around Flatbush, the question really is strange. The school I went to was about half kids of ashkenazic descent, and the other half was sephardic. The vast majority of those sephardim were from Syria, and the majority of those were from Aleppo. I have always been perplexed by a sense many have, namely that the Eastern European Jewish experience is somehow authentic in a way that others aren't. I could never understanding it, having grown up with so many from such a rich and beautiful sephardic tradition.

Their community went back for centuries. They were visited by Maimonides and Benjamin of Tudela who sang their praises. They preserved the Codex considered to be one of the most authentic versions of the Torah in existence. The crushing, tragic end to that community is hardly a unique story. Nor is the nostalgia that one can find in the community even today. (For a quick look into the richness of this heritage, please do click some of the above hyperlinks for at least a surface view.)

Aleppo is not the first city to fall on hard times after essentially expelling its Jews. It is now, however, also a shocking example of humanity’s indifference to the slaughter of civilians in the early stages of the 21st century. I suppose that when the final tallies are made, we’ll look at the horrific numbers and shake our heads at the awful truth. I’m sure we’ll do the same after future revelations in North Korea or Africa. So it isn't unique in that sense either. 

For now, in real time, we push Aleppo to the bottom of the newsfeed. The city becomes a bit of a buzzword because of Gary Johnson, and then it quickly gets lost in the shuffle. The fact that Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad are slaughtering civilians by the thousands is barely noteworthy. The fact that these dictators destroyed a U.N. convoy trying to relieve their victims has not been enough of a reason for the world to act against them. I honestly can’t remember a time when bombing an international relief convoy would get no response beyond name calling. This is a dark moment for humanity.

As we approach the High Holy Days with their themes of repentance, this state of affairs should give us pause. We look back at the abandonment of the Jews in the 1940s with righteous indignation. And well we should. But here is a real time abandonment of men, women and children to barbaric destruction. Has civilization done a better job having learned the lessons of the Shoah? Is it doing a better job right now?

Are we?


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