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Buying Lives

Judy Feld Carr's Secret Rescue of Syrian Jews

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Judy Feld Carr with Jews she helped escape from Syria.
Judy Feld Carr with Jews she helped escape from Syria.

For 28 years, Judy Feld Carr not only knew, but also lived, "the best-kept secret in the Jewish world." The Canadian musicologist and mother of six supported her household and raised a family while almost single-handedly rescuing 3,228 Syrian Jews. "There were no typical days," recalls Judy Feld Carr. "This wasn't like the Russian exodus that was done by the world. This was me running the operation at home and in secret." While Judy Feld Carr has received many honors for her work on behalf of Syrian Jewry, including the Order of Canada (the highest award given by the citizens of Canada to an individual), the labor was not easy. "The rescue was very difficult and stressful," she said. "When you are buying somebody's life, it can be horrible."

Syria vented its rage by burning synagogues and forbidding Jews from leaving the countryJudy Feld Carr and her late husband, Dr. Ronald Feld, developed a mutual interest in the plight of Syrian Jewry in the 1970's. An article in the Jerusalem Post about twelve young Jews whose bodies were mutilated when they stepped on a minefield while trying to escape from Qamishli, Syria, captured the sympathy of the couple, and they brainstormed for ways they could help Syrian Jews. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Syria vented its rage by burning synagogues and forbidding Jews from leaving the country. Restrictions reminiscent of the Nuremberg Laws which ushered in the Holocaust were passed in Syria; Jews were not allowed to travel more then three kilometers without a permit and were forced into ghettos. Business and educational opportunities for Jews were strictly limited, and those who tried to escape were often tortured or killed.

Raising awareness about Syrian Jewry was one thing, "but if you had told me in those days that I would eventually be running a rescue operation, I would have told you that you're mad," said Judy Feld Carr. She made the one and only phone call she ever placed to Syria, a call which began her 28 year journey of international intrigue. She managed to reach the home of a Jew who was in the service of the secret police and he gave them the address of Ibrahim Hamra, the Chief Rabbi of Syria. "To this day, I cannot comprehend why we were allowed to make that first contact," she recalls. "Never again did I make another phone call."

The Feld's sent a pre-paid telegram to Rabbi Hamra and asked if he needed Hebrew books, and received a telegram a week later with a list of titles. They were careful to remove any evidence that the books were printed in Israel, and they removed the first page which contained the name of the publisher; these precautions were necessary, or the books would have been confiscated. Like the Marranos of Spain 500 years earlier, the Feld's and Rabbi Hamra communicated in code using verses of Psalms.

Judy Feld Carr was approached by a friend in Toronto who had returned from Syria and said her brother, a rabbi in Aleppo, was ill with cancer and had been tortured in prison because two of his children had escaped. She was dedicated to the task of getting her brother to Canada, and asked Judy Feld Carr if there was anything she could do. After a year and a half of negotiating prices for the prisoner and facing a myriad of obstacles, the message arrived that Rabbi Eliyahu Dahab was released from prison and sent to Canada for medical care. Judy recalls Rabbi Dahab weeping tears of joy when the nurse said "Baruch Habah," meaning "welcome" in Hebrew. When he was told he would only have a brief time to live, he told Judy Feld Carr of his dream to have coffee with his mother in Jerusalem one last time. He died on Tisha B'Av, a few weeks after the reunion with his mother, but not before making a dying wish that his daughter also be released from Syria.

All they knew was that their way out of Syria was "Mrs. Judy in Canada"Rabbi Dahab's words sparked a cycle of rescues that led to the creation of Judy Feld Carr's underground network, of which only she knew the details. After her young husband died of a heart attack in 1973, Judy's rescues were done solo, and the pressure was often almost unbearable. "I was going to quit almost every second day, but I couldn't, because I had figured out an underground system and I had people depending on me. And all they knew was that their way out of the country was 'Mrs. Judy in Canada.' It was hard, but I had no choice." Judy Feld Carr added, "I never contacted one Jew in Syria. They or their relatives had to find me, and that was difficult because they didn't even know my last name."

Donations for the rescue missions arrived to a synagogue in Toronto, Beth Tzedek Congregation, by word of mouth and covered the expenses of paying for the release of Syrian Jews. When ransoms could not be negotiated, escapes were planned. It is amazing that of the 3,228 individuals Judy Feld Carr helped rescue, there were no casualties. Often this required splitting up families, and parents giving up children. On one occasion she was able to rescue almost an entire family unit; Judy Feld Carr recalls delaying her father's funeral an hour because she had to plan an escape of the mother and six children. "The last day of the mourning period, I got a call – 'Judy, we have them.' It was very difficult to worry the entire week."

To thousands of Syrian Jews who reached safety, their rescuer was known simply as "Mrs. Judy from Canada," a person to whom they owed everything, but didn't expect to meet. A few, however, enjoyed the privilege. Judy Feld Carr and her husband Donald Carr attended an event in a senior home in Bat Yam, Israel. A man named Zaki Shayu spoke about his experiences as a prisoner in Aleppo. He suffered four years of torture during which the authorities had told his mother that he died.

After the speech, Donald Carr asked him, "How did you get out?"

"There was a lady in Canada. Her name was Judy," Zaki replied.

"Do you want to meet her?"

Zaki Shayu's eyes widened in excitement. "Do you know her?" he asked.

"She's sitting right here. She's my wife."

"The whole hall got very emotional," recalls Judy. "It was the most amazing thing. Everyone was crying."

"I put all these flags in the window in case one day she will come"A Toronto antiques dealer went to shop in the old section of Jaffa, Israel and saw a small shop with Canadian flags in the window. Curious, she asked the shopkeeper, "Why do you have Canadian flags here?"

"Maybe you know Mrs. Judy. She arranged my escape. I put all these flags in the window in case one day she will come into my store."

The shopkeeper's wish was granted when Judy Feld Carr visited the shop during a trip to Israel. He gave her an inlaid box which he had made for Judy and been saving for years as a present to express his gratitude.

The last rescue took place an hour before the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. A grueling, yet rewarding, 28 years of rescue missions came to a close. During those moments when the task seemed impossible, Judy remembered a neighbor from her childhood, a woman named Sophie who lost a daughter in Auschwitz. "She told me, 'You can never let this happen again to the Jewish people.' I never forgot those words."

Miriam & Yehoshua Metzinger live in Jerusalem with their 3 children. Miriam is a freelance writer and editor. She also writes a column for "Living Jewish," an English-language publication and is the Jewish Family blogger at Families.com.
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Anonymous wisc July 18, 2013

awesome in today's jargon the word 'awesome' is used for the smallest act or simplest agreement. I have reserved awesome only for things connected to Hashem.

The actions of Mrs. Judy deserve the description of awesome. She has some connection with Hashem. Reply

Robert Rothman Delray Beach,Florida July 18, 2013

Great story Reply

sara rubinstein brooklyn, ny June 18, 2012

28 years 28 in hebrew corresponds to the twentieth letter "chof" and the eigth letter " ches" together they spell 'koach' meaning strength.
perhaps more years are needed to save more people, however, Judy was given the strength by Hashem to succeed all those years. Kol Hakovod Reply

M. Gordon m June 17, 2012

Marriage by proxy I remember in 1978 meeting a Jewish woman from Syria who escaped to the U.S. together with other young adults. A number of young American Jews had signed papers, each one marrying by proxy a young Syrian Jew. They then demanded permission for their 'newly-wed spouse' to emigrate. Reply

sandy Sofia, bulgaria July 4, 2011

my utmost praise and respect for Judy I am in Sofia, Bulgaria and have just watched a show on Israeli television about this remarkable woman, Judy. I am so proud of her and all she has done for her fellow Jews. The Jews of Syria would have had a different fate had she not risked so much to help them.
This story is amazing, and I am so happy to know about it now. Reply

Mido April 3, 2011

good story but missed some information i just read the story of this woman, but she forgot in the final to mention that the EX-President of Syria ( Hafez AL-Asad ) gave the Syrian Jews the right to immigrate and they still have singogues and schools and houses in Syria , Reply

Joseph Snadou Mexico, Mexico March 28, 2011

she helped my father´s escape please if someone can give me her email to thank her and maybe write her...she helped my father´s escape on 1973 Reply

ZS January 6, 2011

Inspiring... The power of one person can change the world! Reply

Sue evansville, in September 20, 2010

Judy is an amazing women As a women I say to you Judy you are a brave women and you have much love, would that all could hear of your story. My grandfather was born with nine brothers and my mother never knew that he was jewish I have wished I had known of this and he would have been around to tell of his life and why. His name was Pearl that was his last name so my mother was a pearl I'm very proud! Reply

Chava Docks Oak Park, MI April 20, 2010

Incredible story What an incredible story!!! What a brave woman to save so many! Thank you, Miriam, for writing her story! Reply

Barry Strulson Greensboro, NC via chabadgreensboro.com January 15, 2010

Baruch Hashem Thank you Judy from Canada. I am certain that you made G-d SMILE! Reply

Anonymous Washington, DC January 15, 2010

This is so impressive! Many blessings on Judy Feld Carr! Reply

Esther Tauby Richmond , Canada via chabadrichmond.com January 14, 2010

Judy Feld Carr I had the honour and privilege of meeting with this amazing righteous woman when "Mrs. Judy" came to speak in our Sephardic synagogue (my husband was the Rabbi at the time) about her work in rescuing Jewish lives from Syria. "Mrs. Judy" inspired me then (over 20 years ago!) and still continues to do so. I am happy to see her being recognized by Chabad. Reply

Anonymous January 14, 2010

Incredible ! This is the most exemplary person I have met in many decades.

Shalom with mazel and blessings. Reply

Anonymous Miami, USA January 14, 2010

OTHERS While the reason for secrecy is self-evident, if the system was able to be superimposed in other places it might be able to continue to save Jewish lives. Reply

miriam metzinger Yirushalaim January 13, 2010

An answer from Judy Feld Carr It stopped because it was over!
I had taken the people out by clandestine means,over 28 years, one person at a time, the majority of the community, most of whom do not know to this day about my involvement in their exit.
There were 24 elderly people left in Damascus, and most of them did not have children. They wanted to stay.. It was their own choice.

I probably could have gotten them out at the time, by my own methods, but they chose to stay. It is just like the few Jews who stayed in Iraq and did not want to leave when there were ways of getting out after the big exodus from there. Again, it was their choice. Reply

miriam metiznger yirushalaim , Israel January 12, 2010

why did the rescues stop? To answer the above question, the timing of the rescues just happened to stop on 9-11, although As far as I know, there was no connection between the two events. I interviewed Mrs. Carr and she said that there were a few left who, for their own reasons, wanted to stay behind. Most of those who wanted to leave thank G-d were able to leave thanks to the efforts of this extraordinary person, Judy Feld Carr Reply

aviva LA January 12, 2010

syrian jews and others That's a great question I would also like to know the answer. Who knows what is the situation of other Jews in hostile arab countries today? Why did the rescues stop? Are all the Jews gone from Syria? Iran? etc? I saw a 20/20 news maybe a year ago about the Iranian Jewish community- they seemed to be content with staying in Iran. I wonder how long that will last? Reply

izzy ny, ny January 12, 2010

Amazing! G-D bless you Judy an Ronald!!! Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI/USA January 12, 2010

Sarah echos Sarah Amazing story.

Why did the recues stop? Are there still people who need our help? Reply

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