It was a James Bond-style, continent-wide operation with many participants. It began in Syria,
continued in the United States and ended in Israel.
And yet, not a single word has been published about it – until now.
Yedioth Ahronoth has revealed the amazing rescue of some of the world's most ancient Bibles from Damascus.
The 11 holy books, some dating back 1,000 years, were written by copyist of the Scriptures around the world and arrived in the Syrian capital in different periods. The Jewish community took pride in them and guarded them meticulously, helping them survive the political upheavals that took place in the city over the years.
The Damascus books are considered the world's most ancient Bibles after the Aleppo Codex, which compared to them is torn and shabby.
The Rabin government decided to bring the books to Israel in 1995. The defense establishment, governmental organizations and immigrants from Syria took part in the secret operation.
"It was one of the most important operations we participated in," says Eliyahu Hasson, chairman of the community of Damascus Jews in Israel, who served as director-general of the Transportation Ministry at the time.
Judy Feld Carr, a Canadian pensioner who turned helping Syria's Jewry into her life's work, lauds the operation as well. "Out of all the things I have done in my life, this operation was the most brilliant," she declares.
On their way from Israel to Syria, the ancient Bibles made a stop in New York. They arrived at a safe haven thee, inside a grey container, without anyone guessing its priceless content.
The mystery surrounding the books' journey from Damascus has not been fully cleared, and some parts of the story cannot be published.
"I'm sorry, I can’t tell you exactly how I got it out of there," says Feld Carr about the book she personally helped bring to Israel. "When I had a famous rabbi look at it, a Tunisian Jew, he burst into tears and said, 'Get this book out of my house. I feel like I have just seen God.'"
The people involved in the operation say that its execution was very costly. "It cost a lot of money, a lot," says Hasson. "Whoever did it acted wisely and knocked on the right doors. One weak link would have been enough to break the entire chain."
Hasson explains that in light of the sensitivity of the operation, it was supervised by high-ranking officials. "I have no doubt that Yitzhak Rabin
was in on the secret," he says. "Unfortunately, the prime minister was murdered before they arrived in Israel and did not get to see the mission accomplished."
Since being brought to Israel, the books are being kept at the National Library in the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They will be presented to the wide public on Wednesday evening in a festive event attended by guests from Israel and abroad.