Judy Feld Carr, a human rights activist who was responsible for the rescue of more than 3,200 Jews from Syria from the early 1970s until 2001, is one of six honorees to be awarded Israel’s first Presidential Medal.
The announcement was made at a press conference at President Shimon Peres’ residence on Feb. 9. The medal honours individuals who have made significant contributions to Israel’s society and its global image.
Others honorees are diplomat Henry Kissinger; Uri Slonim, chairman of the Variety Israel charity; philosopher Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz; the Rashi Foundation and Zubin Mehta, director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Feld Carr, who along with her husband, Donald Carr, publisher of The CJN, has six children and 13 grandchildren, said in an interview that being honoured was a “big surprise. I was in the grocery store when the call came from Israel. I immediately said ‘yes.’ It’s a huge honour, and I am in very good company.”
To this day, Feld Carr, a retired music professor who was raised in Sudbury, Ont., said in an interview, “I cannot digest what I was really doing.”
The saga began when she and her first husband, Dr. Ronald Feld – who died when she was 33 – learned that 12 young Jewish men died trying to escape from Syria.
Together with some friends, they decided to take up the cause of Syrian Jewry and made one phone call to the chief rabbi of Syria. It was the only phone call ever made to Syria from the Jewish community.
The rabbi told them Syrian Jews needed religious books, she said.
“I sent them boxes of books because I wanted them to know that we were thinking about them.”
That led to a communication with some families, and she learned about the arrests and torture that many suffered. She wanted to help, she said.
Much of the money that was needed was raised through the Dr. Ronald Feld Fund for Jews in Arab Lands, established at Beth Tzedec Congregation.
“[For all those years] I was living two lives. I travelled to different countries to undertake secret negotiations, and I was a mother and wife. I was the first woman president of Beth Tzedec, an executive of Canadian Jewish Congress, and I attended community dinners. I didn’t let my one life [interfere] with the other. It was difficult making my lives so separate, but I learned to be an actress.”
She would be basting a brisket, she said, when a call would come through about a Syrian Jew. “I talked and I basted. I had to do it all. I had many sleepless nights.”
Everything was done secretly, and even now people still know very little, she said. “Absolutely nobody knows how I got people out of Syrian prisons. I never made a call. I never initiated contact. They had to find me. [Even though] their lives became intertwined with mine, most have never seen me.”
Feld Carr’s story is told in a book written by University of Toronto Prof. Harold Troper in 1999 titled The Ransomed of Gods: The Remarkable Story of One Woman’s Role in the Rescue of Syrian Jewry. It was republished in 2007 under the title The Rescuer: The Amazing True Story of How One Woman Helped Save the Jews of Syria.
She has received numerous other awards including the Order of Canada, the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, the Saul Hayes Human Rights Award of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and the Simon Wiesenthal Award for Tolerance, Justice and Human Rights.
Looking back, said Feld Carr, “nothing that happened really made any sense. Everything [occurred] almost by happenstance.”