Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Damascus Minyan

Eric Umansky encounters merchants, widows, and secret police at a Syrian synagogue

Print Email
the Damascus synagogue
Last operating synagogue in Damascus’s Jewish Quarter

Last July, journalist Eric Umansky and his fiancée Sara headed to Damascus for a six-month fellowship to study Arabic. After their daily lessons, they roamed the city, discovering loquacious taxi drivers, a lively café culture, and, come the High Holidays, one of the few—if not only—operating synagogues in a city once populated by tens of thousands of Jews.

Eric is back now, full of stories from his trip. He shares a few of them, the most dramatic of which involves a rather disturbing run-in with the synagogue’s purported “Shabbos goy.”

Eric Umansky in Damascus
Left: Sara and Eric in the foyer at the Orient Club, one of Damascus’s finest banquet halls. Above their heads, portraits of President Hafez al-Assad and “Junior.” Right: Congregants at the synagogue.

Photos courtesy of Eric Umansky

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

As to the women not marrying because there were no children, perhaps their children and/or grandchildren went to the US, France, Canada or Israel.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Damascus Minyan

Eric Umansky encounters merchants, widows, and secret police at a Syrian synagogue

More on Tablet:

Ancient Archaeological Site Torched at Israel’s Midburn Festival

By Jonathan Zalman — Flint tools from Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods are history