Friday, March 20, 2009

Struggling to Survive

My article about the ancient, but dwindling, Turkish Jewish communities of Bursa and Antakya is up on Hadassah Magazine's website. 

From the article:
At first blush, the tiny Jewish community of Bursa might seem like the living embodiment of the old joke about the shipwrecked Jew who, alone on a deserted island, builds two synagogues—in case he gets fed up with the services at one of them. Despite the occasional struggle to get a minyan together, the 55-member community in this Turkish city still maintains two gleaming synagogues, located just a few steps from each other on a small street in Bursa’s historic Jewish quarter.

But the Jews of Bursa—traders in the city’s bustling bazaar, where they have been living since they arrived as exiles from Spain 500 years ago—know what they are doing. The Turkish government has frequently confiscated unused property belonging to minority religious groups. To maintain its ownership of both synagogues, the community keeps both open, alternating Shabbat and holiday services between them.

For the small Jewish communities outside of Istanbul, which has the country’s largest Jewish population, acrobatics like this are part of everyday life. Canakkale, for example, a town near the World War I battlefields of Gallipoli and once a center of Jewish life in western Turkey, is today home to only a handful of Jews. Former residents make an annual pilgrimage in a convoy of buses from Istanbul to pray in the last functioning shul and help with upkeep.
You can read the article here.

(Photo -- Brothers Shaul and Azra Cenudi, part of the 35-member Jewish community of Antakya, Turkey, standing in front of the ark in the city's only synagogue. By Yigal Schleifer.)

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