Stephen Solarz, a former congressman who was instrumental in freeing Jews from Syria in the 1980s and 90s, has died aged 70.
According to his entry in the Enclyclopedia Judaica:
“In his years of service, Solarz became known as one of the most important and informed members of the House. A world traveller, he conducted himself as a future secretary of state. An ardent defender of Israel, he introduced legislation barring U.S. firms from complying with the boycott of Israel. He freed Jewish women from Syria, enabling them to join the Syrian community in Brooklyn. His performance was, to say the least, impressive.”
In November 1989, the Syrian government promised to facilitate the emigration of more than 500 single Jewish women, who greatly outnumbered eligible men in the Jewish community and could not find suitable husbands. Twenty-four were allowed to emigrate in the fall of 1989 and another 20 in 1991.
The Jewish Virtual Library entry reads as follows:
For years, the Jews in Syria lived in extreme fear. The Jewish Quarter in Damascus was under the constant surveillance of the secret police, who were present at synagogue services, weddings, bar-mitzvahs and other Jewish gatherings. Contact with foreigners was closely monitored. Travel abroad was permitted in exceptional cases, but only if a bond of $300-$1,000 was left behind, along with family members who served as hostages. U.S. pressure applied during peace negotiations helped convince President Hafez Assad to lift these restrictions, and those prohibiting Jews from buying and selling property, in the early 1990s.”