The ancient synagogue in Aleppo is in danger of being destroyed as regime forces move in on rebel strongholds in Syria’s second city.
Buoyed by a relentless Russian air campaign – which has mainly targeted rebel groups as opposed to ISIS, despite Moscow’s claims – and heavily backed by Iranian forces and Hezbollah fighters, the Syrian regime has recently gained the upper hand against rebels in both the north and south.
In particular, pro-regime forces are focusing their efforts and firepower on Aleppo, roughly half of which is under rebel control, and look set to achieve a decisive and devastating victory against opposition forces there. Fierce fighting around Aleppo has left 500 dead in the past several days alone.
As a result of the fierce clashes – which includes intensive air and artillery strikes – the ancient Central Synagogue of Aleppo faces a real and imminent threat of destruction, according to activists.
The synagogue, built in the 9th century CE, is one of the oldest Jewish houses of prayer in the world. Due to its proximity to a large number of opposition sniper’s nests, the synagogue, which has already suffered significant damage, is currently under the threat of total destruction.
The Amaliah organization – headed by Israeli-American philanthropist Moti Kahana – says it is working with opposition forces to preserve the synagogue’s religious articles and ancient scriptures, which, if destroyed, would mark the erasure of the last fragments of Jewish heritage in the city.
Kahana led a similar drive in 2014 to save the ancient Jobar Synagogue in Damascus, which was also under rebel control.
“We are doing everything in our power in order to save as many books and scrolls as possible”, Kahana said. “This synagogue is an important heritage site for the Jewish people, holding many historical and holy religious articles, which if destroyed, will take with them any memory of Jewish life from this ancient city.
“We are working together with opposition forces in order to salvage the synagogues religious articles, an effort which has proven to be very costly and difficult. Hence, we call upon all Jewish people and those who share the Jewish belief, to join us in our efforts and donate whatever they can.
“Together, we can save the story of the Jewish life in Aleppo, which is part of the unique tapestry of the ancient Jewish life in the area”.
The synagogue was first struck during the early stages of the war in 2012, when the first battles for Aleppo began. In 2014 rumors surfaced that the synagogue had been completely demolished; while this was not the case it did suffer even greater damage, and after rebels seized control of the district its fate seemed uncertain.
After the last known Jewish family was smuggled out of Aleppo in a dramatic operation led by Amaliah, the synagogue stood as a lone remnant to the Jewish life in the city, which dates back to 12th century CE.