All in the Family


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The Syria Issue

All in the Family

We tracked down a Syrian Jewish family for this photo shoot.

Photos by Sunny Shokrae
Stylist: Annette Lamothe-Ramos
Photo Assistant: Jimmy Jolliff
Introduction by Ryan Grim


 high school friend of mine used to live in the Syrian Jewish neighbourhood of Gravesend, Brooklyn, down near Coney Island. He described it as an insular, conservative and somewhat bizarre ethnic enclave that included many opulent houses.

As we were putting together this issue, we realised that coordinating a fashion shoot inside Syria would void our insurance. So I got back in touch with my old friend and asked whether he knew of any families who might be willing to be photographed and possibly interviewed. I stressed that it would be a respectful, straightforward fashion spread and he was kind enough to put out some feelers.


Here’s one of the responses sent to my friend from the father of a Syrian Jewish family (extended ellipses have been left intact): “Definitely not interested….. We do not like articles written about our community…… It is bad press, which causes unwanted attention…. Please discourage your friend from writing this piece….”

All the replies were in the same vein. Luckily, we tracked down a Syrian Jewish family living in nearby Sheepshead Bay who were willing to participate. The kids – Jack, Linda and Etsik – were born in the US and said they feel no strong connection to Syria. Linda added that living near many other Syrian Jews can be good sometimes because “everyone you know is around you,” but it can also be really annoying because, again, “everyone you know is around you.”

“I don’t like Syrian cooking,” Jack said. “I hate it. It’s all greasy, oily, fat. Ugh.” When asked about his love life, Jack said that his past two girlfriends weren’t Jewish, but he does plan to someday marry a nice Jewish girl.

Their mother, Mari, who was born in Syria, doesn’t miss it. No surprise there: Like much of the Middle East and everywhere else on earth, Syria has historically acted like a nasty little fucker to its Jewish population, at times instituting bans on Jews leaving the country and other extreme restrictions. In the 1950s, Jewish cemeteries were seized and plowed over by the Syrian government. There were around 30,000 Jews in Syria in 1943; by 1968, only 4,000 remained. These days, all but an estimated 16 Jews have left the country, with many families relocating to Brooklyn over the years. I look at these photos and wonder what it would be like for them if their brethren had stayed any longer, and how wonderful life can be in a country where people don’t try to kill you because your ancestors might’ve believed in some bullshit or other.


For an overview of the issues that have fuelled the conflict in Syria, we recommend reading "Road to Ruin", our condensed timeline of Syrian history, and "The VICE Guide to Syria", a crash course on the country's geopolitical, cultural and religious complexities.

Jack, Mari, Linda and Etsik at their dining-room table, which is covered in plastic. “Thank God we’re here, and not there,” said Mari about the uprising in Syria.Vintage vest, Diesel sweater and jeans, Louis Vuitton belt, New Era hat; vintage top; Joie shirt, Blank NYC pants, vintage bracelet; Hanes T-shirt, Nike shorts, New Era hat

Jack, while not a particular fan of any one sports team, nevertheless has lots of hats to go with any outfit. New Era hats

Jack, sitting in his room, never plans to visit Syria. “If you’re Jewish? No way. You’re visiting a life sentence,” he said.Diesel Black Gold jacket, Diesel T-shirt, Ralph Lauren Black Label pants, Nike sneakers, New Era hat

Linda poses next to the family TV, which played Arabic programing throughout the entire shoot. Joie shirt, Blank NYC pants, Christian Louboutin shoes, vintage bracelets, Michele watch

Jack admits his Arabic is “atrocious” and that he has no plans to pass it down to his children.Diesel sweater and jeans, Louis Vuitton belt, Gucci shoes

Mari offers the starving photo crew some flatbread pizza, which seemed slightly more Italian than Syrian but whatever. Vintage shirt and pants

A hamsa, a Middle Eastern symbol used to defend against the evil eye, hangs on Jack’s wall.

Linda sits on the marble coffee table in the living room, which is sparsely decorated except for the family hookah.Joie shirt, Blank NYC pants, vintage bracelets, Michele watch