Judith Feld Carr clearly remembers the initial impetus for her extraordinary activities in the rescue of Syrian Jewry: “When I was 10 years old, Sophie told me, you have to do something so that this never happens again to the Jewish people.’ I never forgot it.”
Sophie, a Holocaust survivor, was ten-year-old Judy Lev’s neighbor in Sudbury, a small northern Ontario mining town in Canada where the young girl was exposed to Jewish suffering early on. “I was the only Jew in school. I was beaten up in grade two for killing Christ – they knocked out my front teeth,” Judith Feld Carr recalls. No wonder Sophie’s narrative of Auschwitz, where the latter’s two children were killed and where she herself was a victim of Dr. Joseph Mengele’s horrifying experiments, made a deep impression on the traumatized adolescent. And she made up her mind not to let anything like the Shoah happen again.
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, Judith Lev married a young physician, Ronald Feld, and became a mother of three children: Alan Harold, Gary Alexander and Elizabeth Frances.
In the 1970’s, an article in the Jerusalem Post reminded Judy of Sophie’s narrative, and she decided to act. The news item told of twelve young Jews whose bodies were mutilated when they stepped on a minefield while trying to escape from Syria. At that time Syrian Jews were subjected to restrictions reminiscent of the Nuremberg Laws during the Holocaust. Jews were not allowed to travel more then three kilometers without a permit and were forced into ghettos. Their synagogues were burnt, business and educational opportunities for Jews were strictly limited, and those who tried to escape were often tortured or killed.
Her husband, Dr. Ronald Feld joined forces with Judy, and they began a clandestine underground railroad to save the Jews of Syria. They succeeded in contacting Rabbi Ibrahim Hamra, the Chief Rabbi of Syria in Damascus, and began operations by sending Hebrew books to Syria, using quotes from them as codes to communicate.
In 1973, after her husband died, Judy continued the work alone, supported by the Dr. Ronald Feld Fund for Jews in Arab Lands, set up by the Beth Tzedek Congregation. Four years later Judy Feld married Donald Carr who also cooperated in her efforts. Over time, it became clear that there were people in Syria who could be bribed so that Jews could be “ransomed.” “So, I started to buy people for a price,” she reveals. In time Judy developed networks through which she funneled money to agents for ransom. “How do you negotiate the price of human lives? I was breaking up children from their parents. It was like the 1940s, they were desperate to get their children out,” she says softly. During a period of 28 years Judith Feld Carr carried out the rescue of 3,228 Jews from Syria.
She has received many awards for her heroic efforts on behalf of Syrian Jewry, but the one she holds closest to her heart is the Order of Canada. “It’s amazing. I got the Order of Canada for saving Jews. That had never happened in Canadian history.”
Among the Jews rescued from Syria, who now live in Israel, Mexico City and Sao Paolo, Brazil, many have named their children after Judith Feld Carr, this remarkable heroine of rescue, an amazing woman to whom they owe their lives.