Netflix has a new Turkish drama series , The Club – starring Jewish characters and giving viewers a flavour of their Ladino culture. They are good-looking and sympathetically portrayed, although tensions between Jews and Muslims are also present. Feature by Lior Zaltzman in Kveller magazine:
A new Netflix show opens with a scene of a dark-haired woman lighting Shabbat candles, reciting a Shabbat prayer in Hebrew to herself in a crowded dorm room filled with women wearing head coverings.
No, this isn’t the latest season of the Israeli hit “Shtisel.” It’s a new, incredible drama called “The Club,” and it hails from a perhaps unexpected place — Turkey, a land not usually known for its portrayals of Jews.
“The Club,” or “Kulüp” in Turkish, landed on Netflix on November 5, and it is comprised of six masterfully crafted, compelling and incredibly Jewish episodes — with dialogue in Turkish and Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, the Jewish language spoken by Sephardic Jews of Spanish origins. The show is helmed by prolific and accomplished drama director Zeynep Gunay Tan (love me a woman-run show!) and features an all-star cast.
The name of the show refers to Club Istanbul, a new club opening up in the Turkish capital in 1955, and the show focuses on the many souls who work there. But it is mainly the story of Matilda, a Jewish woman played by the mesmerizing Gökçe Bahadir, a well-known Turkish drama and movie star. When we first meet Matilda in that crowded Jewish dorm room, she has just gotten a pardon and is out of jail for the first time in almost two decades.
Like many Turkish Jews before her, she sets her sights on Israel, hoping to start a new life there, as well as leave behind a land where she has no family left. No family, that is, aside from a daughter, who was born out of wedlock while Matilda was in prison, who she had to give away — and who she knows nothing about.
Before she gets on that ferry, Matilda has to get her affairs in order — she visits David, with whom she left her daughter 17 years prior, to leave something behind for her and to get help with assembling the paperwork needed to make aliyah. David tries to dissuade her from leaving — “It’s been more than 400 years, this is our home,” he tells her, urging her to reunite with her daughter instead. When she refuses, he divulges her daughter’s name — Rasel — and shows her a black-and-white picture of her daughter, now a beautiful young woman.
Turkey is supporting the production of a film designed to show how ‘tolerant’ the country has been historically towards Jews. The filming is being done in Edirne, where the synagogue was recently restored. Cynics might point out that if the country is so tolerant, why does only one Jew still live in the city? Report in Jewish News: (with thanks Michelle) :
Producers of an American TV show are filming in Turkey for a series that will tell the little-known story of Ottoman Jews from the time of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 to the present.
Air Land & Sea will chart the lives of the Jewish families who settled in Turkey at the invitation of Sultan Bayezid II after Jews who refused to convert to Christianity were expelled from Spain.
Filming, which is being done with the support of Turkey’s government, has so far included Istanbul and the province of Edirne in the north-west, which was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
The show’s host, Brad Pomerance, saw the historic and recently refurbished Great Synagogue of Edirne – the third largest synagogue in Europe. “It just goes to show you how Turkey continues to be a tolerant country that welcomes people of all faiths,” he said.
Noting the country’s population is 99 percent Muslim, he added: “I have felt incredibly welcomed as a Jewish American documenting the story of Jews in Turkey.”
In a display of dhimmitude, Jews in Turkey have denied that president Erdogan has made antisemitic statements, despite his using ‘Jews’ and ‘Israelis’ interchangeably. Times of Israel reports:
JTA — The main organization representing Turkish Jews has criticized the US State Department for accusing Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of using antisemitic rhetoric.
The Jewish Confederation of Turkey said Wednesday that it was “unfair and reprehensible to imply that President Erdogan is antisemitic” in a tweet.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that “the United States strongly condemns President Erdogan’s recent antisemitic comments regarding the Jewish people and finds them reprehensible.”
Not much is known about Sigmund Weinberg, a Romanian Jew who opened a photographic and optical equipment shop in Istanbul. Official photographer to two Ottoman sultans, he became one of the pioneers of Turkish cinema. Now a film has been made about him by Savas Arslan. Profile in the Daily Sabah (with thanks: Edna):
Sigmund Weinberg: represented the French Pathé company Weinberg was one of the photographers taken under the care of the palace. Sultan Abdülhamid II supported and directed all photographers in the country at the time. The earliest photographs of the Ottoman era date back to his reign. He had photographs taken of all the statesmen, including himself, the army and even inmates in prisons. The entire Ottoman territory, including Istanbul, Mecca and Medina, was also photographed upon his request.
Was Weinberg the one who brought cinema to the Ottomans? Yes, he was one of the people who brought this technology in his era, but he was not the only one. From the first quarter of the 1900s, cinema gradually became an important part of entertainment life in Istanbul, with longer and more extensive film screenings.
The organizers of film screenings in these years were Istanbul’s artisans, Ottoman merchants who followed the technologies of the period and businessmen from abroad. Among those who were instrumental in the introduction of cinema to the Ottomans were Weinberg, French painter Henri Delavallee, music hall and circus operator Ramirez, French palace illusionist Bertrand, engineer and film equipment manufacturer Pierre-Victor Continsouza and Yıldız Palace’s interpreter Sabuncuzade Louis Alberi.
The first film was screened in 1896 by a Frenchman named Bertrand who organized cultural and artistic activities at Yıldız Palace. Sultan Abdülhamid II watched the film with his family and took great interest in it.
In 1897, Weinberg started to show films to the people of Istanbul as the Istanbul representative of Pathé Film. These screenings were short but engaging pastimes attended by families, including children. From that year onward, film screenings continued to increase.
The machine used in this screening was brought by Weinberg from France. It was a projection machine that produced light through oxygen, used in early cinema technologies of the pre-electric era. He projected minute-long films on a 2-meter-wide screen.
After carrying out screenings in various places, Weinberg in 1908 opened the Pathé cinema, the first established cinema hall in Istanbul. He operated this hall until 1916.
Weinberg produced films of historical importance as well as operating the movie house and broadcasting and distributing films. In October 1899, he wrote a letter to the sultan in order to film the Ottoman army. He also presented the sultan with a catalog of cinematographers, which are motion picture film cameras also serving as film projectors and printers.
The French Pathé is one of the film companies that operated in the early years of cinema in the Ottoman Empire. As in many countries, they opened a representative office in Istanbul.
Nearly all of the films screened from 1902-1913 belonged to Pathé. The company was the sole dominator of the Ottoman market with its distribution network. It did not limit its investments to Istanbul and opened movie theaters in Izmir and Thessaloniki, two of the most cosmopolitan cities.
Weinberg also made records in the name of Pathé film that were watched in Ottoman territory. Thanks to him, many historical happenings were recorded on film. He filmed one of Sultan Abdülhamid II’s Cuma Selamlığı, a tradition practiced by Ottoman sultans on their way to Friday prayers, in the Hamidiye Mosque in 1908. He also recorded other important events of the period, such as the election held in November 1908 and the opening of the Assembly in Istanbul.
Weinberg also filmed Sultan Mehmed V Reşad, who ascended to the throne after Sultan Abdülhamid II. He recorded the parade of the Ottoman navy at a ceremony at which Sultan Mehmed V Reşad was present in 1910. Documentary films, which he took by approaching the sultan as close as 5 meters away with special permission from the sultanate, were screened in various halls.
Additionally, he shot occupied Istanbul and filmed many current cases. These included sports competitions, the funeral of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Joachim of Constantinople and some large fires in Istanbul. He was documenting history with both films and photographs.
Weinberg was a figure with supreme commercial acumen, foreseeing the future of all kinds of innovation. Between 1885 and 1889, his shop both assumed representation of various foreign companies and imported photographic material.
Sultan Abdul Hamid II
By the time of World War I, the film industry had developed considerably. Thus, it was used as one of the most effective means of propaganda. The government of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which dragged the Ottomans into the war, wanted to use it well.
During this period, Weinberg was appointed head of the Central Army Cinema Department (MOSD), which was established by the order of Enver Pasha, minister of war and acting commander-in-chief. He was ordered to film the Romanian and Galician fronts. These important images were shown in the Palas Cinema on June 9, 1917.
However, the government of CUP, which cooperated with the Germans in the war, dismissed Weinberg. Surely, the ultra-nationalist CUP officers who cooperated with the Germans would not trust a Jew who was the representative of a French company. Romania was also a hostile force, and Weinberg descended from a Romanian family.
Grandparents of Edna-Anzarut-Turner (who alerted us to this article) after their wedding in Constantinople. They are sitting at the back. Signmund Weinberg is at the wheel. Next to him is Karl Karlmann, one of the first to found Bon Marché, an elegant and select department store in Constantinople.
Although he always considered himself an Ottoman citizen, the concept of the nation-state of the new world prevailed after the war.
What did Weinberg do after the founding of the Republic of Turkey? Information about him is scarce as he was pacified during the war years. His wife Caroline moved to Tel Aviv in 1927, with her son-in-law Josef and daughter Regina. Weinberg continued to live in Istanbul after 1927.
He died in 1936, and at the initiative of his other daughter Elsa and son-in-law Harry, who lived in Romania at the time, his body was brought to Bucharest and was buried there.
There are no heirs left to the Camondo name, but the tragedy of this Ottoman banking family transplanted to a splendid villa on the rue Monceau in Paris, whose last assimilated descendant Beatrice and her family were murdered in Auschwitz, has a lesson for today, claimed Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt in his Rosh Hashana sermon. Here it is reproduced in Medium magazine: (with thanks: Lily)
Walk into the home, and find yourself facing a grand sweeping staircase, then a magnificent dining room overlooking manicured gardens. It’s a dizzying experience: The furniture, the paintings, the porcelain. Count Moise De Camondo, heir to a vast Jewish banking fortune, amassed one of the greatest collections of French artistry of the 18th century, including a table covered by petrified wood that once belonged to Marie Antoinette and silverware commissioned by the Empress of Russia Catherine the Great. Moise and his cousin Isaac were early supporters of the French Impressionists, including Manet, Cezanne, Monet and Degas (even though he was an ardent anti-Semite). Isaac donated his collection to the Louvre (the museum curators were at first “horrified” by the radical artwork, and locked the paintings away).
The Camondo brothers were board members of the Louvre; Moise hosted the museum’s board meetings around his dining room tables on Rue De Monceau.
If that does not sufficiently describe Moise’s social status — in 1891, Moise married Irene Cahen d’Anvers, daughter of Louis Cahen d’Anvers, one of Europe’s wealthiest Jewish bankers and owner of the bank today known as BNP Paribas. The Cahan d’Anvers family had a tradition that they are descendants of King David. Irene was immortalized by Renoir, who was commissioned to draw her in 1880, in a painting titled “Little Irene”.
‘Little Irene’ by Renoir: Moise de Camondo married the Jewish banking heiress Irene Cahen d”Anvers
But as we walked through this palace, I did not see not one mezuzah, menorah, kiddush cup, Shabbat candles…. Our curiosity was growing by the minute — who were these Camondos, really?
Abraham Salomon managed to become a leading financier in the Ottoman Empire, earning the name ׳the Rothschild of the East’. He became an advisor and confidant of the Grand Viziers, Sultan Abdulmecid I and Sultan Abdulaziz. He helped finance the Crimean War, and was essential in helping the Ottomans implement the tanzimat reforms that were supposed to modernize, consolidate and strengthen their empire.
Abraham Salomon was knighted by Emperor Franz Joseph, and later attended his wedding in Vienna in 1854. After the reunification of Italy, in recognition of his philanthropy to various Venetian causes, King Victor Emmanuel II conferred upon him the title Count on the 28 of April 1867, with the privilege of transmitting it in perpetuity. ;
But Abraham understood that being the wealthiest of the 800,000 Jews living in the Ottoman Empire was not merely a privilege — it was a responsibility.
Abraham Salomon de Camondo
He served almost continuously as the president of its Consistoire since its founding. He built Jewish day schools, hospitals, and welfare organizations especially for the impoverished Jews living in the Peri Pasha neighborhood in Istanbul.
He even got into a major fight with ultra-Orthodox rabbis because of his support of the building of Alliance Jewish day schools that intended to teach Turkish and French in addition to tradition. They feared the assimilation that may follow. (Every great Jewish leader has to get into a fight with rabbis at some point in their career.) Abraham eventually opened his own synagogue. In 1840, during the Damascus blood libel which accused 13 prominent members of the Jewish community for murdering a Christian child for his blood — Abraham Salomon hosted Sir Moses Montefiore and helped persuade Sultan Abdulmecid I in Constantinople, to issue a firman (edict) on 6 November 1840 to declare the libel as slander against Jews and to be prohibited throughout the Ottoman Empire.
Abraham’s only son Raphael died young, leaving his two sons Abraham Bechor and Nissim. The grandsons joined the family business — which by then had helped finance the Suez Canal — and expanded their grandfather’s banking and real estate activities to Paris in 1868, relocating the bank to Rue Lafayette. The brothers bought adjoining homes 61 and 63 on Rue de Monceau.
They built the home to include a family chapel that was adorned with their grandfather’s Judaica they brought from Constantinople, a collection which included Torah crowns, menorahs, yads, and even a Torah scroll with the inscription: “This case and its Torah scroll belong to the famed, esteemed, superb, lordly, influential, Prince of Israel, R. Senor Abraham of the Camondo lineage; may G-d protect him; may the Lord grant him the privilege of fulfilling all the commandments of the Torah, Amen, year 5620 of the Creation.” (1860)
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