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February 15, 2013     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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February 15, 2013

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PAGE 14A By Adam Nicky The Media Line AMMAN, Jordan--Street noises mix with a call to prayer coming from the King Hussein' Mosque in downtown Amman, the city's commercial center, while on a nearby street corner, Issam, a Syrian businessman, calmly answers a steady flow of phone :alls and customers' questions, The 44-year-old has suc- cessfully transferred his shoe business from Syria's war- ravaged city of Aleppo to the Jordanian capital, starting his enterprise anew in Amman like hundreds--if not thou- sands--of other Syrian refugee businessmen that Jordanian officials say have settled in the kingdom, many operating without a license. Issam used to own a factory inAleppo's industrial zone anda shop in its old city, now the front line in the battle between rebels and government forces: Having escaped "with his clothes and some cash," he now operates a successful shoe business in Amman. The well-groomed Issam tells of his perilous escape from HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 15, 2013 Syrian businesses take refuge in Jordan shelling, looting and other dangers in his hometown. "I had to pay $20,000 to free my kidnapped brother. People like me with some financial means became a target of every- body--the government forces and some anti-government groups,'he told The Media Line. Aleppo's industrial zone and the old city became increas- ingly difficult places to do business as the fighting became more intense, sending produc- tion costs skyrocketing and suffering looting by all parties in the conflict, he explained. The once-safe city turned into a battleground between the determined rebels and the heavily-armed government troops. Issam matter-of-factlytells of a journey under shelling and making his way past poten- tially dangerous checkpoints manned by various armed groups. Despite all that, he hasn't lost his edge as a canny busi- nessman from Aleppo, one of the region's most ancient trade centers. Issam began there with a used shoe sewing machine, his own skill and a long list of clients from around the Middle East and built up a thriving business. So making the transition after his peril- ous flight here has not been problematic. "It was not difficult to settle in the new environment. I know the language and I started quickly to avoid feeling sorry for myself! he added. Indeed, Aleppo was a key Syrian economic center before the outbreak of violence. Con- tributing nearly one-third of the country's economicoutput, it had nearly 31),000 industrial sites. It remains Syria's largest and wealthiest city, Issam is just one of thousands of Aleppo-based merchants who have managed to fle along with their businesses. The majority settled on the other side of the border, in Turkey, while others preferred Dubai's tax=free economic system or headed to Europe. With his network of clients from the United Arab Emir- ates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman, Issam expanded and. now both exports and sells to the local ma'ket. The exodus of Syrian busi- nessmen and refugees has given the Jordanians a distinct sense of dj vu. Following the 2003AmericaninvasionofIraq, wealthy Iraqibusinessmen fled the sectarian war and headed to Jordan, another humanitarian disaster leading to a flight of businesses from yet another economically stable country, to the kingdom. Jordanians have yet to recover from the Iraqis' impact on property values, which skyrocketed after their arrival. Cash-strapped Jordan, al- ready facing mounting eco- nomic difficulties, is struggling to cope witl the large influx of refugees since the crisis started. The government says nearly 230,000 refugees have entered, mostly women and children. With a Sunni major- ity, Jordanians support Syria's anti-Assad movement. Officials from the Invest- ment Promotion Commission said that while' they are still studying the impact of Syr- ian businesses on Jordan's economy, Amman is an open market to all investors, and the Syrians had been given no special privileges to lure them. to the kingdom. Still, despite their sympathy for their neighbors, Jordanians are starting to feel the squeeze from their newfound competi- tion with the newly arrived Syrian businessmen in an already-tight economy. While business leaders say they welcome the newcomers with open arms, owners of small businesses w)rry that their share of the market could be endangered. Ebrahim Hadad, a 65-year- old businessman, runs a gar- ment factory in the capital's Jabal Amman quarter, where he sells clothesto local and re- gional markets. He said Syrians are managing to cut production costs by operating from apart- ments, hiring refugees and avoiding taxation. "Syrians are welcomed; this country is comprised of refugees. However, they are hurting our businesses. I am unable to compete with them. This is unfair to local industry," he told The Media Line. A few meters down the street, near a busy traffic light, another example of Syrian busi- ness initiative was on display, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. "Red Syrian tea, red Syrian tea," 12-year-old Syrian youth Abdel Ghani shouted as he approached motorists with his tray. Like most child laborers, he works to support his four sisters and sick mother. "We are getting little assis- tance from the charity groups," he says. "My father is missing and my mother is injured and getting hospital treatment," Ghani added as he expertly maneuvered between the cars to sell his drinks to the drivers and their passengers. Shoemaker Issam insists he's not here to take food away from anyone, but rather is seek- ingasafe place, like the majority of the kingdom's population, who also escaped wars in their countries-of-birth and ended up settling in Jordan. That's what low-tech entre- preneur Abdel Ghani seeks as well as he continues to snake his way though traffic at the busy corner. He complained to The Media Line that other kids seUing gum and flowers harass him. "Some people attack meand say I should not work, but I ignore them and go to another traffic light," young Ghani Said. "I need to put bread on the table." By Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA)--Wide-eyed and smi- ley, Elay-Gabriel seems utterly unaffected by the French me- dia's sudden interest in him. A dozen French journalists have visited the 18-month-old in recent months because he is trappedin asort of legal limbo: He cannot obtain citizenship because the state does not recognize children born to surrogates abroad as French, even if one of their biological parents is a French national. Complicating matters is the fact that Elay-Gabriel is being raised by two gay Parisians--Israeli-born Eran and his partner, Jean--Louis. (The family asked that their last name not be published.) Gay couples cannot adopt in France, meaning that sur- rogacy--and the citizenship uncertainties which follow-- are inevitable for gayswishing to raise children. "We learned singles practi- cally can't adopt, and gays are all singles in France because we can't marry," Eran said. Much of that could change if President Francois Hol- lande succeeds in his effort to push legislation through Jews vocal on both sides of France's marriage debate parliament that would allow same-sex marriage in France, a move that has set off a fiery public debate in which Jews have played an outsized role. In October, Chief Rabbi Gil[es Bernheim, breaking with the French rabbinate's traditional neutrality on issues of civil legislation, penned an essay on the nega- tive effects of gay marriage. Bernheim argued that legal- ization efforts are made for "the exclusive profit of a tiny minority" and are part of a wider move to "undermine the heterosexual fundamentals of our society." France's association o Jewish homosexuals, Beit Haverim, condemned Ber- nheim's language as "bel- licose." But the document has been quoted at length in influential French dailies and was cited approvingly by Pope Benedict, who called it "profoundly moving" during his Christmas address to Vatican officials. Bernheim's essay was a no- table contrast to the inflam- matory reaction of France's Catholic clergy, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the arch- bishop of Lyon, said in an Courtesy Erat Eran, left, with son Elai-Gabriel and partner Jean-Louis at their Paris home. interview that the law would bring about "social collapse," adding, "Next they'll want to have foursomes. Then they'll legalize incest." "When the Catholics spoke against this law, no- body listened because of the vehemence and because they're Pavlovian opponents of change," Yeshaya Daisace, name it." For many, the debate is largely a nominal question of principle, as legal work- arounds afford French gays de facto equality in most areas. Prenting, however, is an exception. In November, Eran met with several French Socialist lawmakers leading the gay a welt-known Conservative . marriage effort. On Jan. 29, rabbi from Paris, told JTA. "People listened to Bernheim because the Jews are known as progressive forces of change in law, medicine, labor--you The Traditional Mohel for the Modem. Family Rabbi Dr. Israel J. Barzak, CMP, DM Gentle Certified Mohel Specialist Endorsed by the Greater Orlando .Board of Rabbis. Medical & Client References Faithfully serving for'25 years: North-Eastern, Central & Western Florida "Treating every baby as my very own with love compassion and TLC" Study- 386-673-5535 Cell- 386-290-8833 Email- French media reported that Justice Minister Christiane laubira ordered'authorities to naturalize the dozens of surrogate children like Elay- Gabriel who are living as foreigners in France. "This is positive, but a di- rective could be canceled and cannot replace legislation," Eran said. Preliminary deliberations on the "marriage for all" bill began in parliament on Jan. 28. With Hollande's Socialist Party holding a majority in both houses, the law is likely to pass. Still, the debate has ignited passions. Only a bare major- ity--52 percent--supports the law, according'to a poll of 1,002 adults published Jan. 13 by the newsweekly Le Point. The first discussion in parlia- ment was preceded by a dem- onstration in Paris by some 340,000 opponents of the legislation. Another 120,000 demonstrated in favor. The divide is similarly evi- dent within France's Jewish community. Courtesy Eran Eran, a gay Israeli-Frenchman, with his son, Elai- Gabriel, attending a a January demonstration in Paris in favor of allowing same-sex marriage, JoelMergui, presidentofthe nity Of 550,000--the world's French Consistoire, a state- third largest--is gradually  recognized body responsible becoming more traditional for synagogues and religious and inclined to oppose Hol- Jewish services, spoke out lande's law. against gay marriage in Sep- "The affiliated Jewish com- tember, telling Le Monde, "It munityofFranceisbecoming would change the natural more and more religious and model of the family." traditional, and that is part Dalsace has emerged as of the influence of the large something of a spokesman NorthAfricancontingentthat for the other side, pen- arrived here in the 1950sand nng a 37-page essay and '60s,"saidGideonKouts, head several Op-Eds disputing of the Department of Hebrew Bernheim's reasoning and and Jewish Culture at Paris 8 asserting that the law does University. not infringe on religious Whether or not religious liberties. But while he is opposition to the law is suf- routinely quoted by sup- ficient to prevent its passage porters of gay marriage, is an open question, but it's Dalsacemaintainsthatrab- certainly not going to deter bis should not get involved the French president. In an in debating civil law. His zrticleinLeFigarolastmonth objective in speaking out, about an "informal talk" he Dalsace told JTA, is "to had with a group of clergy- fight the false imPression men that included Bernheim, that Bernheim speaks for Hollande made clear that he all Jews." planned to stand his ground. While no data exist on "We don'tmakelawsbased where French Jews stand on ondemonst'rations,'Hollande the gay marriage question, ex- said. "[Because] ifwe did, we'd perts say the Jewish commu- be letting the street decide.".