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Judy Feld Carr

b. 1938

by Harold Troper

Nothing in Judy Feld Carr’s background would suggest that this Canadian woman would rescue more than three thousand five hundred Syrian Jews between 1975 and 2000. She was born in Montreal, Quebec on December 26, 1938. She and her younger brother Alexander (1942–1999) were raised in the small northern Ontario mining town of Sudbury where Judy’s Russian-born father, Jack Lev (1898–1983), was a fur trader and leader of Sudbury’s tiny Jewish community. Judy’s mother, Sarah (née Rivers, b. Brooklyn 1917, d. 1986), managed the family home. After Judy finished high school in 1957, she left Sudbury to study music education at the University of Toronto, where she gained both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music education and musicology. She also became a specialist in instrumental and vocal music at the university’s Ontario College of Education. In 1960 she married a young physician, Ronald Feld (1933–1973). They had three children: Alan Harold (b. 1961), Gary Alexander (b. 1965), and Elizabeth Frances (b. 1969).

In the late 1960s Judy and her husband were swept up in the Soviet Jewry campaign but soon refocused on the plight of Jews in Syria. Convinced that the approximately six thousand Jews of Syria needed strong western advocates, the couple organized a Syrian Jewish support committee. With a small group of Toronto activists, they publicized the desperation of Syria Jews threatened by a constant reality of extortion, imprisonment without trial and torture. Judy and her husband also sought ways to let Syrian Jews know they were not forgotten. Their committee began mailing packages of religious articles and books to Syria, items which the Syrian authorities allowed to be delivered. In the process, the Felds made covert contact with several Syrian Jewish leaders, first in Damascus and later in Aleppo. Guarded and coded communication began, as did the secret transfer of money to support individual Syrian Jews in distress.

When Ronald died suddenly in 1973, friends organized a charitable fund in his memory at Toronto’s Beth Tzedec to support the Syrian work. In 1977 this work took a sharp turn. Judy, remarried to prominent Toronto lawyer and Jewish leader Donald Carr (b. 1928) and mothering a blended family with six children, was approached with the idea of bringing an elderly and sick Aleppo rabbi to Toronto for cancer treatment. The idea seemed impossible. Syrian authorities generally refused to allow the departure of Jews but Judy, intrigued by the possibility of actually removing a Jew from Syria, accepted the challenge. She quickly learned that the key to getting anything done in Syria was money. If enough money greased the right palms it was even possible to buy Jews out of Syria. With money quietly raised in Toronto for bribes and airline tickets, Judy eventually bought the rabbi out of Syria.

Before long, Judy was secretly negotiating with Syrian officials, even Syrian secret police agents, for the removal of more and more individual Jews. With every successful rescue, Judy was approached with more names of Jews desperate to leave. With each new name she began the long and sometimes cumbersome rescue process. It was not easy. Each case was unique. Since Syrians would only rarely permit an entire family to leave together, Judy bargained for each family member in turn. And costs varied; an old man generally cost less than a young and single woman, a little boy more than a little girl. How much for a pregnant woman?

In addition to the bribes, Syrians also demanded an excuse for granting Jews permission to leave. Judy was inventive. Some, like the elderly rabbi, were said to be leaving for medical treatment. Some left as caregivers for the sick, others for business or to visit family who had left Syria in the 1940s and 1950s before Syria’s doors were sealed to Jewish exit. Officially, each Jew allowed out posted money as a guarantee of his or her return to Syria but the Syrian authorities who took bribes knew full well none would return. Most of those whom Feld Carr bought out of Syria were first transported to New York where some were reunited with family. Others stayed in New York only long enough to camouflage a departure for Israel where they were quietly resettled in spite of warnings by Syrian officials that any contact with Israel would mean the punishment of family members remaining in Syria.

In some instances it was imperative that an individual or even an entire family in trouble with the authorities be removed from Syria quickly. In these cases no amount of bribe money could convince Syrian officials to issue an exit visa. As a last hope, Feld Carr entered the murky world of smuggling. At great cost and personal risk, she engaged shady individuals who, for a price, illegally smuggled people and goods across the heavily-guarded Syrian border with Turkey. Once in Turkey those whom Feld Carr paid to smuggle out were quietly moved on to Israel.

In the early 1990s hopes for a comprehensive peace, including an American-brokered peace between Israel and Syria, were high. In order to remove barriers to bilateral talks, Syria officially lifted most barriers to Jewish departures. However, officials responsible for issuing passports and exit visas still demanded a handsome fee for their services. Unsure that the Syrian door would remain open, Judy threw all her energy and financial resources into removing the remaining Jews from Syria as quickly as possible. Most left. Today there are virtually no Jews remaining in Syria.

Her work done, Feld Carr emerged from the shadows to overdue public recognition. Along with honorary degrees and accolades from Jewish and Israeli organizations, she was awarded the Order of Canada, the highest award Canada can give a citizen, in 2001. She was also honored in 1995 by Israeli Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin. “Very few people, if any,” wrote Rabin, “have contributed as greatly as you have.” Perhaps most important to her was an honor bestowed by Syrian Jewish leaders who recalled it was “Judy Feld Carr who arose when it was ‘still night’ and woke up the world to the plight of our brethren in Syria.”

AWARDS AND HONORS

Saul Hayes Human Rights Award, Canadian Jewish Congress, 1995; Humanitarian Award of Merit, University of Haifa, 1996; Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa, Laurentian University, Ontario, 2000; Medal of Valor, Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Los Angeles, 2001; Abraham Sachar Medal, Woman of the Year. Brandeis University, 2002; Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, 2002.

Bibliography

Troper, Harold. The Ransomed of God: The Remarkable Story of One Woman’s Role in the Rescue of Syrian Jews. Toronto: 1999.

A detailed and thoroughly documented scholarly study based on primary archival research in numerous manuscript collections and more than forty interviews with individuals directly involved with the story.

17 Comments

Recently, several Jewish houses of worship and Jewish organizations have committed themselves to sponsoring Syrian Muslim families to live here in Canada. Given the hatred of Jews and the antisemitism that existed in Syria for centuries that to this day still exists, as well as Ms Feld -Carr's own experience with Syrian antisemitism, how does she feel about this open-arms, loving attitude of the Synagogues, their Rabbis and congregations, towards muslim Syrian refugees, and their financial as well as moral support. I would like to hear from Ms. Feld-Carr as to whether she supports this venture or not.

Hi! I have always been in awe of Judy Feld Carr's efforts to rescue Syrian Jews. Given the Canadian government's new commitment to bring 25000 (presumably non-Jewish) refugees to Canada over the next couple of months, I am curious as to her perspective on the potential role of the Toronto Jewish community in helping to settle this new wave of Syrian refugees escaping from Assad's hell.

Hi! I am Michael Soucy and I am doing a school project on Judy Feld Carr and one component of the project is to interview Judy. If I could interview Judy through phone, in person, or by e-mail that would be great. If someone could help contact me with Judy it would be very much appreciated. What Judy has done is just remarkable and I would be ecstatic if I had the chance to interview her. Thanks and Regards. - Michael Soucy

JWA has forwarded your message to Ms. Carr. We hope she will be in touch with you soon. We are always happy to connect people through our website.

Hi I am part of the Syrian Community in Brooklyn NY. Many of the people who have come to NY from Syria live in this community. It would be an honor if Mrs. Judy Feld Carr would agree to come to our community and speak directly to the people she has saved. It will give a tremendous amount of inspiration to the generation that was born here in America from these jews that have left Syria and show them how special of a lady she was and what one person can do with G-ds help if they find the will to do so. Please email her this message and if she does have interest please have her email me to Magenavrahamofbkln@gmail.com note - Rabbi Hamra brother Jospeh and his children are all a part of our congregation G-d Bless you

Your message has been sent to Ms. Carr. We hope that she will reply to you directly. JWA is always happy to connect people through our pages.

What Judy has done is just unbelievable. Could you please forward this message to her

as I would like to know if she ever comes to South Florida and, if so, would she speak

at our synagogue or at a private home. We have descendants of Allepo families in our congregation.

Your message has been sent to Ms. Carr. We hope that she will reply to you directly. JWA is always happy to connect people through our work.

Hi! My name is Nora. I am doing a school project on Judy Feld Carr and one component is to conduct an interview with her. The interview could be in person, through Skype, or even through email. I would very much appreciate if I could get in contact with Ms. Carr, to discuss conducting an interview. I really admire what Judy has done and would be honoured to have a chance to speak with her for my project.

Thanks so much!

We have forwarded your message to Ms. Carr. JWA is always happy to bring people together. We wish you success with your project. Please let us know how it turns out.

Ms. Carr requested that we update the article above with current news, along with two spelling corrections.

1) Her father's name is spelled "Jack LEVE" not 'Lev' 2) Her mother's maiden name is 'Sarah RIVES' not 'Rivers'.

In June, 2012, Judy was one of the first six recipients of "The Presidential Award of Distinction of the State of Israel". The Award was created by President Shimon Peres to "recognize outstanding contribution to the Jewish People and the State of Israel." She received the medal "for secretly helping save Jews from Syrian prisons, rescuing young people and families, and saving Judaica artifacts from Syria."

Among her other awards, she received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

Judy Feld Carr gives speeches to organizations on the topic of the 'Untold Story of the Secret Rescue of the Syrian Jewish Community.'

My name is Nessim Scialom (Lima, Peru). I was a member, together with you, of the board of directors of the HIAS. I would like to contact you. Regards

We have forwarded your message to Ms. Carr. We hope that she will be in touch with you. We at JWA are always pleased to bring people together.

We would like to invite Mrs. Carr to share her story at an event we are planning and wish to be in personal contact with her. Is this possible? Peg Byars Communications Director Return Ministries (Aliyah Organization) Bright, ON

We have forwarded your message to Ms. Carr. We hope that she will be in touch with you. We wish you success with your event. We at JWA are always pleased to bring people together.

Judy, you are a great woman and an inspiration for us all.

Hello Judy, Thank you for saving the lives of so many ..the bible speaks about the reward of saving one soul .May you be blessed abundantly for your love and dedication to G-d and His people.Today I write you with a duo motivation.Recently I have been more and more interested in the Torah and the relationship between YHWH and the Jews. All is well with my world when I find that there are still wonderful and amazing people as you Judy ,and so close! Shalom!!!

Judy Feld Carr
Full image

"Judy Feld Carr... arose when it was ‘still night’ and woke up the world to the plight of our brethren in Syria," announced the leaders of the Syrian-Jewish community in honoring the Canadian woman who single-handedly engineered the escape of more than 3,500 Jews from persecution in their homeland.

Institution: Judy Feld Carr.

How to cite this page

Troper, Harold. "Judy Feld Carr." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 21, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/carr-judy-feld>.

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