Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish Community
Bazaar in Bensonhurst, 86th Street east from Bay 32nd Street, Brooklyn.
Emigration to New York began in about 1907, although a few arrived earlier. The Syrian Jewish community in New York originally consisted of two groups, Jews from Aleppo and Jews from Damascus. At first the convergence of the two groups was not easy. The Aleppan Jews, or Halabis, thought themselves superior, largely due to their history in Syria as a center of Jewish learning. They followed the traditions of Aram Soba. The Damascene Jews, or shammies, prayed in a different house of worship, although the two groups lived side by side, socialized and intermarried.
After living on the Lower East Side, in the 1920s the Syrian Jews began moving to Bensonhurst, a Brooklyn neighborhood, where they established a cemetery (first in Queens, then on Staten Island), two synagogues, a Talmud Torah and a ritual bath. The Damascene Jews prayed at Ahi Ezer Synagogue on 71st Street, led by Rabbi Murad Maslaton, while the Aleppan Jews prayed at Magen David Synagogue on 67th Street. With few exceptions, the families follow Orthodox Jewish religion, following Jewish law and the traditions and values of Sephardic and Syria tradition. They are highly respectful of their elders and of family values. In 1933, Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, a Talmid Hakham from Jerusalem and a descendant of an unbroken chain of rabbis dating back to 1600, was hired as the community’s chief rabbi.