Tucked away in a mountain on the outskirts of Damascus, the “Cave of Blood” overlooks the city and is where religious text dictates Abel was killed by his brother Cain. Nearby is Abel's tomb, located amongst a vast complex of buildings, a mosque built in the 16th century, and a gathering space for the thousands of pilgrims of the three Judeo-Christian religions that visit the site each year.1 Though Judaism, Christianity, and Islam cannot agree on a story of how Cain killed Abel and how he was buried, the site of Abel's tomb remains an important pilgrimage site nonetheless.2 However, since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, the ornate complex and his tomb presumably has far less people coming every day, if at all, than years prior.
Abel’s Tomb: The rolling hills near the Baqa’a Valley outside of Damascus are host to a number of religious sites, including Abel, Noah, and Seth’s tombs. Since the tomb is located in modern-day Syria, a Muslim, Arabic-speaking nation, the tomb is often referred to as Habil, or Habeel, the name for Abel in the Qur’an.3
The Jews of Syria: The history of Jews goes back a few thousand years: the Jewish presence in Syria can be traced back to the Roman times, even before a Muslim presence. The oldest Jewish colony of the Mediterranean is believed to be Cyprus, which is an island due west of Syria. The Seleucid kings of the Roman era supposedly encouraged Jewish settlement throughout Asia Minor.4
The first major conflict between Jews and the rest of the inhabitants of Syria in modern history occured in 1944, when Syria gained independence from France. Syria’s independence set off a wave of anti-Jewish violence, that while this was not the first instance of anti-Semitism in Syria, this year marks a steep increase. The violence continued and only worsened in 1947, when the partition plan in Palestine was established. The pogroms that followed drove out or killed nearly all of Syria’s Jewish communities.5
Anti-Semitism has continued in Syria and it is believed that there are only a handful of Jews left in Syria. In 2015, a major rescue mission was coordinated by a Syrian businessman living in America, who was helping a man trying to get his grandmother and her daughters out of Aleppo. These women, believed to be the last Jews in the city, had to be smuggled out in the middle of the night, without any knowledge of the plan whatsoever. Their “handlers” brought them to Turkey, where they were then given visas to Israel on the basis of aliyah. However, one of the daughters had converted to Islam when she married her husband, and she and her family were unable to attain visas. With no other choice, she, her husband, and their three children returned to Aleppo, and could be the last five Jews living in Syria today.6