Another renovated synagogue, but fewer Jews

 (Photo: Reuters)

As the renovated Edirne synagogue is unveiled, Turkey joins the ranks of those Muslim countries giving priority to beautiful but empty Jewish buildings over a thriving community of actual Jews. Article in the Jerusalem Post: (with thanks: Heather)

EDIRNE, Turkey – When the domes of Edirne’s abandoned Great Synagogue
caved in, Rifat Mitrani, the town’s last Jew, knew it spelled the end of
nearly two millennia of Jewish heritage in this Turkish town.

As
a boy, Mitrani studied Hebrew in the synagogue’s gardens and in the
1970s, dispatched its Torah to Istanbul after the community shrank to
just three families. In 1975, he unlocked its doors and swept away the
cobwebs to marry his wife Sara.

“Only I am left. It happens slowly, becoming the last one,” said Mitrani, 65, whose family fled here more than 500 years ago.

Now
a five-year, $2.5 million government project has restored the
synagogue’s lead-clad domes and resplendent interior ahead of its
Thursday re-opening, the first temple to open in Turkey in two
generations, but one without worshippers.

It is part of a relaxation of curbs on religious minorities ushered in during President Tayyip Erdogan’s 12 years in power.

Yet
it coincides with a spike in anti-Semitism in predominantly Muslim
Turkey and a wave of Jews moving away, say members of the aging
community, which has shrunk by more than a third in the last quarter
century.

The increase, observers say, is linked to anti-Israel
sentiment which reached a crescendo during Israel’s Gaza offensive in
July. Erdogan compared Israel’s assault on Palestinians to “genocide”
and “Hitler’s barbarism.”

He drew distinctions between Israel and
Turkish Jews, yet his words helped stoke outrage, and local Jews were
threatened by public figures and pro-government newspapers.

Turkey’s
Jews, most of whose ancestors sought refuge here from the Spanish
Inquisition, are on edge. Their schools and synagogues are behind
security tunnels, shielded by steel blast protection.

“They have
lived in a state of fear for a long time after terror attacks and the
feeling that they are not treated as Turkish citizens. There is worry
for the younger generation,” said Ohad Kaynar, Israel’s deputy consul
general.

Louis Fishman, an expert on Turkish affairs at Brooklyn
College in New York, saw evidence of government indifference to
anti-Semitism. “Buildings might be protected but the people who visit
them are subjected to regular hate speech and threats,” he said.

Erdogan’s
spokesmen and other officials did not respond to requests for comment
for this article. However, the Turkish government has been at pains to
distinguish between its Israel policy and its attitude towards Turkey’s
Jewish population.

Close allies under
previous governments, Israeli-Turkish ties hit a nadir in 2010 when
Israeli commandoes stormed a Turkish-led convoy of ships carrying aid to
Gaza and killed 10 Turks. Turkey withdrew its ambassador and ejected
Israel’s.

“Regardless of the fact that we identify ourselves as
Turks, we are still perceived as foreigners. Tensions between Turkey and
Israel directly impact us,” said Karel Valansi, a political columnist
with Salom newspaper.

Read article in full

4 Comments

  • In a strange way, the inside of this splendid synagogue structure remind me of the outside of the Galleria Uffizi in Florence.

    Reply
  • In a strange way, the inside of this splendid synagogue structure remind me of the outside of the Galleria Uffizi in Florence.

    Reply
  • In a strange way, I'm sort of glad that Turkish-Israeli relations are the way they are right now. It will give Israel the opportunity to openly side with the Kurds, Assyrians, and Armenians, who will be much better friends to Israel than the Turks. It also gives the opportunity for Israel to erase its shame and recognize the Armenian genocide already. – DS

    Reply
  • "government indifference" hardly captures the very hostile attitude of senior AK party members, including presidente for life, RT Erdogan and his puppet PM hold toward Jews.

    Reply

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