ISTANBUL. Turkey’s Jewish community marked the end of Hanukkah, also known as the festival of lights, on Sunday night. In synagogues across Turkey and in parks in Istanbul’s Nişantaşı neighborhood, community members lit menorahs to observe the festival which started one week ago. Hanukkah’s last night was celebrated with Ladino songs.
The Jewish community in Turkey is mostly descendants of Sephardic Jews that took shelter in the Ottoman Empire after fleeing Spain centuries ago. Their numbers, mainly concentrated in Istanbul nowadays, dwindled with a pogrom decades ago and after migration to Israel.
In Şişli, the Istanbul district that has been historically home to the Jewish community, the faithful joined locals to mark the day in Nişantaşı Sanat Park. Addressing the crowd there, Chief Rabbi İsak Haleva said the festival hosted “a magnificent view [of unity].”
“I hope this sets an example for unity and togetherness,” Haleva said.
Religious and political leaders have marked the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in Istanbul’s Ortaköy neighborhood, underlining the importance of the Jewish community for Turkey.
“We’ve never had any problem with our Jewish siblings in Turkish soil, but crises may erupt between countries from time to time,” Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak told journalists at the event in Esma Sultan, which was organized by Beşiktaş Municipality and the Turkish Jewish Community.
“We experienced the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident. After this event, we witnessed our Jewish siblings’ great efforts as intermediators,” he said, referring to an Israeli commando raid in 2010 on a Gaza-bound flotilla that killed 10 Turkish activists.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, Turkish Jewish Community President İshak İbrahimzadeh, acting Armenian Patriarch Aram Ateşyan, Israeli Consul General in Istanbul Shai Cohen and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Birol Kilic (Association of Turkish Kultur in Austria) were among the participants at the Hanukkah celebrations.
Noting that it was impossible to separate Jews from Turkish history and Turks from Jewish history, Kaynak noted that “all who were in trouble in history found themselves in these lands.”
During his speech, Kaynak also said Mehmet the Conqueror invited all Jews to Istanbul when he conquered Istanbul and guaranteed that they would be able to live their religion freely. Kaynak added that Anatolia has been the “mother’s bosom” throughout history and that 3 million asylum seekers are currently in Turkey.
“There are Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens, Sunnis and Shiites among these refugees,” he said.
Turkey “never sees Jews as minorities,” Kaynak said, adding that the country had been restoring synagogues and churches in addition to mosques.
“Our Jewish siblings are the owners of this geography just like us and they are its main elements,” he also said.
During his speech, Kaynak said the world needed scenes of fraternity like those at the Hanukkah celebrations in Ortaköy, adding that there were no problems that could not be solved as long as people respected others’ beliefs, races and religions.
Chief Rabbi İsak Haleva also spoke at the event, saying he could not forget the moment in Ortaköy “for a lifetime,” adding that he experienced the honor of being together with others for the first night of Hanukkah. Beşiktaş Mayor Murat Hazinedar also stressed “love and peace” in the region. “Much price has been paid in this region throughout history. We will continue to pay them, but with love and respect we will continue our existence,” he said. ( yenivatan.at, aa,)