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Al-Franj Synagogue at Damascus, Syria

In 1857, the Austrian poet Dr. L.A. Frankl visited Damascus, and reported that the Jewish community had eight synagogues, including one called "Frangi" which may have been the Al-Franj Synagogue. According to Frankl, "Frangi" was the largest synagogue in Damascus and was founded by the Spanish [1]. Today, the al-Franj Synagogue stands near the Talisman Hotel in the Jewish quarter of Old Damascus [2].

Description

The capital city of Syria, Damascus's Jewish community has an ancient and biblical history. It is believed that Jews settled in Damascus as early as the First Temple period, while evidence from the Second Temple period points to Jewish settlements arriving in the first and second centuries. Following the Umayyad conquest of Damascus, the Jewish community was forced to abide by "dhimma" (non-Muslim) rules; yet the community continued to prosper economically. The Jewish community continued to prosper between the tenth and mid-twelfth centuries, during the Fatimid and Ayyubid periods; however, the Mamaluk period saw an increase in anti-Jewish violence and discriminatory laws. Damascus's Jewish community began to recover towards the end of the fifteenth century, and the following centuries saw a spiritual and economic revival for Damascene Jews: new synagogues were constructed, religious studies spread, and Jews achieved positions of prominence in commerce. Eventually, Damascus's Jewish community began to dwindle, and in the eighteenth century the Karaite community sold its synagogue. The nineteenth century saw the rise of class divides between Damascus's wealthy and poor, which in turn led to divided opinions and beliefs. Throughout the century, the Ottoman Empire sought to bring equality to religious minorities and integrate Jews into the political system, and though these reforms were implemented slowly initially, the Jewish community and Ottoman authorities eventually became more involved with each other. Meanwhile, tensions rose between Christians and Jews, and Christians began to level blood libels against Damascus's Jews while religious violence increased. During the early 1900s, new tensions rose in Damascus as the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the Syrian Arab kingdom was established, the French mandates for Syria were established, and the Arab nationalist and Zionist movements began to grow. Through the 1940s, Jews attempted to emigrate from Damascus into Palestine, until 1949 when Syria and Israel went to war--trapping the Jewish community. Anti-Jewish violence and harassment continued, and Jews were increasingly attacked and controlled. Under Ḥāfiẓ al-Asad, Syria's remaining Jews were finally allowed to leave the country in 1992 [3].

 

Damascus, Syria

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