President of the Amaliah humanitarian organization, Moti Kahana, is conducting an emergency campaign to save the last remnants of the Jewish community of Aleppo in war-torn northern Syria. In particular, Kahana and his organization are engaged in an effort to preserve the central synagogue of Aleppo as well as its Torah and religious books.
“We need to act very quickly,” Moti Kahana told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “We need approximately $100,000, some of which I will contribute myself. I gave over $2.2 million in 2015, but, unfortunately, it’s too much for me take on alone.”
Kahana established Amaliah shortly following the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011 as an organization that would provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. Kahana has often been referred to as a sort of Raoul Wallenberg figure among the Syrian opposition for helping many of the Syrians who defected from the Assad regime to flee the country. (Raoul Wallenberg was a heroic Swedish businessman and humanitarian who helped tens of thousands of Jews escape the Nazis.)
More recently, however, Kahana has been focusing his organization’s efforts on preserving Jewish heritage following his success last year in rescuing the last remaining Jews in Syria. “We rescued the last Jews of Aleppo and now we need to rescue the Torah,” Kahana said to TPS.
“There are 2,000 years of documentation and evidence belonging to the Jewish community in that synagogue and surrounding area,” Kahana elaborated to TPS. “We need to move them out before they get destroyed.”
Kahana coordinates with many sources among Syria’s moderate opposition groups in order to achieve his objectives.
“My guys in the north started contacting me to tell me that the oldest synagogue in Aleppo was about to get destroyed,” Kahana explained to TPS. “My guys were watching and protecting it until Assad started bombing the area a few days ago.”
Kahana emphasized that he is not as concerned about Assad’s bombardment as he is about what Assad’s Iranian and Hezbollah allies would do after taking control of Aleppo.
“The Assad regime going back to Bashar al-Assad’s father has protected the synagogue for the last 50 years, but I do not think Assad has control over Syria any longer,” claimed Kahana to TPS. “I think the Iranians and Hezbollah are the ones making the decisions with Russian air power backing them.”
“I’m afraid Hezbollah will try to clean out the area,” continued Kahana. “They are not going to necessarily look for Jewish and non-Jewish remains. They are just going to wipe the area clean.”
Kahana also believes that unlike the Assad regime, the Iranian and Hezbollah fighters will show little respect to Jewish artifacts and places of worship.
“Those guys don’t care for Jewish artifacts,” Kahana contended. “They would come in and pretty much take over a building and make it their own.”
Kahana also recognizes the potential dangers posed by ISIS as well as by the other radical Islamist groups that are fighting the Syrian government.
“They are of course terrorists who would try to kill me and my family and of course I am not supportive of them or work with those groups in any way,” Kahana acknowledged. “If ISIS does take control, they’re going to destroy Jewish heritage as well, but ISIS is not at the gates of Aleppo right now.”
Once smuggled out of Syria, Kahana plans to temporarily store the synagogue’s Torah as well as other rescued items in New York to be returned at a later date.
“I would like to bring everything to New York for safekeeping. When the war is over and the Jewish community can go back and rebuild the synagogue, the Torah will be sent back, if that is the wish of the Aleppo Jewish community,” explained Kahana to TPS.
Kahana would like Israel to assume a role in helping to protect Aleppo’s synagogue and its surrounding area as well.
“Israel is trying to do as much as it can, but I think Israel should ask Russian President Putin to stop carpet-bombing the area,” Kahana added to TPS. “There is a 500-year-old Jewish cemetery where the bombs went off, and Israel should be in touch with Putin to make sure the area is not damaged.”
Kahana would prefer that Putin work with the moderate Syrian opposition in rescuing the synagogue’s items. Nevertheless, such a scenario is unlikely given that Russia has been backing the Syrian government.
“The optimal scenario would have both the Syrian opposition and Russia working together to save the synagogue’s Torah and books,” Kahana said to TPS.
Ultimately, Kahana believes that the many moderate Muslims in Syria can have a role in his emergency campaign. “The ones who helped me and my organization save Syria’s last Jews were Muslims inside Syria,” noted Kahana. “I help human beings because we as Jewish people will help any human being so long as they do not want to kill us.”