Judy Feld Carr chuckles when told that someone had called her “the Canadian
Cindy.” But while “Cindy” honey-trapped nuclear whistle- blower Mordechai
Vanunu, Feld Carr is credited with finding an escape route for Jews trapped in
Syria over almost three decades.
Feld Carr – a musicologist, mother of
six and grandmother of 13 who lives most of the year in Toronto – says she
secretly and discreetly used money and connections to help Jews get out of
On Monday, she was given the Presidential Award of Distinction by
Shimon Peres in recognition of her heroic role in the rescue of Syrian
Jewry. Peres, who had phoned her in Toronto in February to inform her of
her award, praised her “courageous action and exceptional contribution to the
In an interview at the Jerusalem home in which she and
her lawyer husband, Donald Carr, often spend part of their summers, Feld Carr
smiles when asked why she was given the prize.
“I was awarded it because
I secretly took out three-quarters of the Syrian Jewish community by escape
routes and by ransom, and it was the biggest secret in the Jewish world,” she
tells The Jerusalem Post
. “Nobody, but I mean nobody, knew how I was doing
Based in Toronto, she devoted herself to working with smugglers and
bribing government officials to save Jews from the hostile Syrian regime,
methodically keeping files on each one of them.
“I started a
communication with Syria at the end of 1972. I took my first person out
of Syria by ransom – a rabbi from Aleppo – in 1977; I finished the morning of
September 11, 2001, an hour before the Trade Center tragedy happened,” she
explains, matterof- factly.
“I was involved with [rescuing] 3,228 Jews
out of a population of 4,500 when I started. Slowly, slowly, slowly, with
a great deal of difficulty; it was not an easy thing to do, and I am not from
Syria – I am an Ashkenazi from northern Canada originally – I figured out the
Her interest in Syria started when she and her first husband,
Rubin Feld, clandestinely started sending “religious books” to the country from
Canada, and she was later approached by a couple of Syrian Jews who came to
Toronto to visit her.
She makes a point of expressing her gratitude to
her home country of Canada for enabling her to conduct her rescue operation
there without word getting out to the rest of the world.
another best-kept secret. I could do things quietly in Canada and not be seen by
the press or the media,” she says, emphatically. “A lot of my neshama
[soul] has been in this. I did this quietly for 28 years, and I raised all the
money quietly – no dinners, no parties, no fund-raising. All the money was
raised by my best friend and a few other people on a committee that I had in
Toronto and me.
“It was all by word of mouth, and the money went into a
fund in my synagogue, Beth Tzedec Congregation. The fund was named in
memory of my late husband who died in 1973 of a heart attack, after a major
threat against my life.”
Asked how she pulled it off, Feld Carr still
cannot tell the whole story, which apparently involved paying smugglers to take
Jews through other Muslim countries, or paying for their release and flying them
to the United States. But, she stresses, it was extremely
“There’s no one answer. Each person was done totally
differently. One thing you have to understand right up front, I never made a
contact to get anybody out of Syria and that’s the most important thing,” she
says. “Syrian Jews had tried every single way they could think of to get out;
their own ransoming, other escapes, people were caught, people were sent to
prison. They had to find me; I was their last resort out of the country. They
found me through a relative, a brother or a sister, or someone in
Her face lights up as she gives an example: “As a matter of
fact, one of the presidents of Israel was approached by a young man in the
Israel Air Force who who came to him to say, ‘Please, I have a family in Syria,
you have to get them out.’ And the president’s secretary called me in
Toronto. That’s how I came to get his family out, part as a result of an
escape and part by ransoming. “It was the most difficult thing. First
they had to find me. They never saw me; I was the voice on the telephone, and
they had to trust what I was going to do.”
When confronted with the
current bloodshed in Syria, she expresses her relief that the majority of Jews
are now out of the country, living mostly in the US, South America and Israel:
“There’s certainly a civil war [in Syria], and as the so-called rebellious side
gets more and more arms, there are going to be more and more murders,” she
predicts. “I know what hell Syrian Jews went through. I can say to you, thank
goodness there are only 17 Jews left there, all older people who did not want to
leave. I’d hate to think what would happen from either side if there were Jews
left in Syria.”
Feld Carr has been awarded a number of top honors over
recent years, including an appointment as a member of the Order of Canada and
the Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.
In 1995, then-prime
minister Yitzhak Rabin was the first to acknowledge her “extraordinary work,” in
a letter which now hangs on her wall: “Now that for all practical purposes, the
entire Syrian Jewish community has left Syria, the time for thanks is here –
first and foremost to you,” Rabin wrote.
A book called The Rescuer
Canadian Jewish historian Harold Troper was written in 2007 about “the amazing,
true story of how one woman helped save the Jews of Syria.”
Broadcasting Authority Channel 1’s made a documentary about her work titled Miss
which was shown at the Toronto Film Festival.
She was called Miss
or Mrs. Judy and given the codename “Gin” by many of those she rescued –
some of whom have honored her by naming babies after her.
thing happened last month in New York,” she says, smiling broadly.
and her husband were in New York for another honor, and she invited a family she
had saved from Syria to dinner. One of the sons’ wives had just given birth to a
daughter, whom they named Judy.
“There are now several Judys in the
Syrian community, but I had to see this latest Judy, and she was so cute!” Feld
Her eyes sparkle with pride, and she sighs with the relief of
someone who has completed a mission impossible.