In the 1990s almost every Jew that lived in a Middle Eastern Arab country decided it would be better and more suitable to leave their place and go elsewhere. This crowd of migrators in our community are called “boats”, not because they left on boats but because they left in such a rushed and hurried manner that they looked like unsettled, olden age, individuals when they arrived at their new destination. Many moved to either America or Israel and brought their Middle Eastern (in my case Syrian) culture.
My parent’s first stop out of Syria was America but right after my parents got married my father’s family thought it would be better to follow the Syrian crowd that went to Israel. The terrain, weather and lifestyle in Israel is more similar to the one in Syria therefore my fathers’ family thought it would be easier adjusting there because they would be more familiar with it.
Six years later, in 2001, I would be having a migration of my own, from Israel to America, and it was a hard experience. I came to a new language, a new crowd, and a new school and I felt as if I had been lost. When I think back at my migration I say that it is hard but when I compare it to my parent’s and my grandparents’, when they came here in the 1990s, I’d say it doesn’t compare because their hardships and struggles were bigger.
In the 1900s The Asad of Syria forbid Jews in Syria from traveling to other countries in order to keep them as hostages. Being an ethnic minority, the Syrian Jewish community faced a lot of bullying that was to be avoided only by bribery (for example a local polis officer would not instigate false accusation if he knew he would be receiving expensive gifts) and freedom of speech and religion was highly limited (Jewish practices were often done in public in fear of upsetting neighboring Arabs).
Many Jews couldn’t tolerate such oppression and escaped secretly through the Turkish/Syrian border. My great aunt and her family had to bribe their way out of Syria and higher a smuggler to smuggle them out at night. Until this day she tells us how she was carrying her infant son on her back as they crossed mountain lines and how younger children were forced to take sedatives to put them out long enough to pass the border. To prevent smuggling people, the Syrian government gave visas to some Jews but even then never to all family members, forcing people to leave family members behind and make migration harder.
Its not hard to understand why my parents and grand parents would leave with all these conditions but at times I think they never wanted to leave at all. My parents always reminisce about Syria. They speak about how the food of the land was simply better and how here it just tastes so artificial. They speak of Syria being an agricultural country with wholesome tasty food. The grass was greener the sun was brighter and even though it was a place where technology wasn’t advanced its simplicity was beautiful. The way their homes were designed were so different than they are here; my mother always speaks of beautiful flowers planted at the center courtyard and getting water from the water well found in the middle of her home. It was a place where rich tradition was found. Family is a big part of Syrian tradition; families stayed together, grew together, and remained a whole unit. When it came time for the holidays the entire community would prepare together at the same time, help one another, and of course celebrate it together.
When they speak of such times I get nostalgic for a place I didn’t even know and I realize it’s a lifestyle I’d always want to emulate. Even though I cant be in their shoes directly I try to experience all they speak about through the traditions and customs the Syrian Jewish community live by. If an outsider were to come visit our community, they would instantly realize how our daily lives are so intertwined with traditions, laws, and customs. It isn’t just the main ideas like family and holidays but even our culture is in our daily routine .We start the day and end it with prayers; our food and even drinks are full of Syrian spices and herbs. An accepted joke that is known in our circles is that “if rosewater is not found in your dessert than it is not a Syrian dessert”. We have a tradition of drinking Turkish coffee out of something called a finjan. This “coffee time “ with this specific type of coffee is found in every Syrian Jewish household at any time and any occasion.
The more I look into it the more I discover that my culture ads purpose and meaning in everything I do in my life. Whether it’s the food that I eat the way I dress, or the choices I make in life, it is all tied to the rich culture my grandparents have brought along from Syria. In thirty years I could see my daily routine involving all the traditions I’ve learned from my grandparents. I only hope I can do them justice and carry them out with pride.