There were large communities in Aleppo ("Halabi Jews", Aleppo is Halab in Arabic) and Damascus ("Shami Jews") for centuries, and a smaller community in Qamishli on the Turkish border near Nusaybin. In the first half of the 20th century a large percentage of Syrian Jews immigrated to the U.S., Latin America and Israel. Most of the remaining Jews left in the 28 years following 1973, due in part to the efforts of Judy Feld Carr, who claims to have helped some 3,228 Jews emigrate; emigration was officially allowed in 1992. The largest Syrian Jewish community is located in Brooklyn, New York and is estimated at 75,000 strong. There are smaller communities elsewhere in the United States and in Latin America.
In 2011, there had been about 50 Jews still living within Syria, mostly in Damascus. By May 2012, only 22 Jews were left in Syria. More recently, in September 2016, this number is reported to be down to only eighteen.
There have been Jews in Syria since ancient times: according to the community's tradition, since the time of King David, and certainly since early Roman times. Jews from this ancient community were known as Musta'arabim ("Arabizers") to themselves, or Moriscos to the Sephardim.
Many Sephardim arrived following the expulsion from Spain in 1492, and quickly took a leading position in the community. For example, five successive Chief Rabbis of Aleppo were drawn from the Laniado family.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, some Jews from Italy and elsewhere, known as Señores Francos, settled in Syria for trading reasons, while retaining their European nationalities.
Kurdish Jews, hailing from the region of Kurdistan, represent another sub-group of Syrian Jews. Their presence in Syria predates the arrival of Sephardic Jews following the reconquista. The ancient communities of Urfa and Çermik also formed part of the broader Syrian community and the Aleppo community included some migrants from these cities.
Today, some distinctions between these sub-groups are preserved, in the sense that particular families have traditions about their origins. However, there is considerable intermarriage among the groups and all regard themselves as "Sephardim" in a broader sense. It is said that one can tell Aleppo families of Spanish descent by the fact that they light an extra Hanukkah candle. This custom was apparently established in gratitude for their acceptance by the more native Syrian based community.