Syria’s Christians – who will help them?

By Lela Gilbert/
An old damaged Orthodox Church is pictured in the besieged area of Homs. (Reuters)
It all started during the early days of the Arab Spring — another “peaceful” protest defying another despotic regime. Today, nearly three years later, that protest has exploded into Syria’s ferocious civil war.

Radicalized Sunni warriors have swept across the borders, seized control of moderate forces, and are waging jihad against Iran-backed President Bashar Assad and his Shia fighters.

News reports have grown increasingly horrific: Massacres. Chemical weapons. “Barrel bombs” designed to mutilate. “Infidels” beheaded on YouTube videos. The U.N. has given up trying to accurately update the death toll, which has soared beyond 100,000.

In the midst of widespread butchery, Syria’s ancient Christian community is being devastated.

And in the midst of widespread butchery, Syria’s ancient Christian community is being devastated.

Just days ago, Investors Business Daily reported, “the relentless carnage and horror that has engulfed Syria over the past two and a half years has taken a particularly heavy toll on the country’s Christian minority. An unknown number of civilians, including religious figures, have been kidnapped or killed or remain missing, in a conflagration that seems to have no end….”

Friday, my friend Judy Feld Carr emailed me. “I cannot understand,” she wrote, “why there is not one word in the media about the destruction of the churches in Syria. Nobody even mentions it!”

Judy Feld Carr knows more than her share about dangers emanating from Damascus, and about how an historic population’s way of life can be annihilated. Besides the torture, murder, or flight of thousands of 20th Century Syrian Jews, most of their synagogues, sacred books and millennia of their history are lost forever.

Carr also knows something about activism. Over the course of 30 years, she all but single-handedly smuggled, ransomed or otherwise snatched 3,228 Syrian Jews out of Hafez al-Assad’s iron fist.

Long before the Internet, she tracked down and telephoned courageous rabbis; hid coded messages in books, and identified urgently at-risk Jews. Gradually, Carr raised enough money to ransom them – usually one or two at a time.

Judy Feld Carr’s story is heroic – she deserves far more accolades than she has received. And her concern for Syria’s Christians is genuine. Like many other Jews, she asks why their plight is met with near-complete silence and inaction by Western Christians.

Mass graves have been found in Christian villages. Priests and clergy have been abducted, tortured and murdered. A dozen nuns from the battered Christian village of Ma’alula are still held captive, while their surviving co-believers remain hidden away from the fierce gaze of the “freedom fighters.”

Radical Islam’s hatred of Jews and Christians has long been inscribed in blood across the Muslim world. Today it continues to be writ large in Syria.

Chatter about peace continues, but nothing changes. Geneva II, scheduled for January 22, offers vague possibilities for a truce, but brutality continues to pound the Syrian people into submission or worse.

In October, Nina Shea quoted Syriac Orthodox archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, “We have shouted to the world but no one has listened to us. Where is the Christian conscience? Where is human consciousness? Where are my brothers? I think of all those who are suffering today in mourning and discomfort: We ask everyone to pray for us.”

The archbishop’s cry stirs many of us, including Judy Carr. In an interview about the ongoing violence in Syria, she remarked, “Thank God, there are hardly any Jews left there [to kill or torment]. The Christians are next.”

As the saying goes, “First the Saturday People, then the Sunday people.”

Of course nowadays, smuggling Christians out of Syria isn’t the answer – hundreds of thousands have already fled, some barely surviving in squalid refugee camps.

Still it bears repeating that not so long ago, one determined woman – a Canadian housewife, mother and music teacher – took action, engaged others, and turned a deadly tide. If Judy Feld Carr could rescue more than 3,000 endangered Jews, what about us?

There are millions of believing Christians in the world. Perhaps together we can awaken dozing Christian leadership. Pound on political doors. Publicly protest. Inform each other. Broadcast the story. Support responsible relief efforts. Watch and pray.

Suppose every Christian took action to help our brothers and sisters in Syria. What might happen?

Lela Gilbert is author of “Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner” and co-author, with Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, of “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians.” She is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and lives in Jerusalem. For more, visit her website: