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July 20, 1990 - Image 50

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-07-20

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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50 FRIDAY, JULY 20, 1990

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Call The Jewish News

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Turkey's Sephardic Jews
To Celebrate Freedom

ELENA NEUMAN

Special to The Jewish News

S

ome historians have
suggested that
Christopher Colum-
bus was a Marrano, a Jew
forced to convert to
Catholicism in 15th-century
Spain, and that he set sail
for what he thought was In-
dia in an effort to escape the
Spanish Inquisition.
If this is true, then it can
safely be said that thousands
of other Jews who fled Fer-
dinand and Isabella's domi-
nion in 1492 had a much
better sense of direction.
For in the same year that
Columbus discovered the
New World, thousands of
Sephardic Jews fleeing the
Inquisition headed due east
and found a safe haven in
the Ottoman Turkish Em-
pire.
The year 1992 marks the
500th anniversary of the ar-
rival of these Jews, and the
Jewish community of
Turkey is planning a gala
three-year celebration.
The Quincentennial Foun-
dation, established by the
community, is organizing
cultural and educational
events both in Turkey and
abroad to celebrate the
legacy of Turkish Jewry.
Symposia, concerts of
Judeo-Spanish folk music,
plays on Turkish-Jewish his-
tory, contests, exhibits,
documentary films, the res-
toration of Byzantine syn-
agogues, the planting of a
commemorative forest and
the setting up of a Jewish
museum are all planned.
"I think Turkey- is the only
country in the world where
Jews have lived for five cen-
turies peacefully and con-
tinuously," said Naim
Guleryuz, vice president of
the Quincentennial Founda-
tion. Guleryuz noted that
the celebration also seeks to
honor the remarkable spirit
of tolerance the Turks have
shown toward their Jewish
compatriots.
"During a time when the
concept of tolerance was not
mentioned or even known,
the Ottoman Empire
welcomed hundreds of
thousands of refugees who
were strangers to their
language, religion and cul-
ture."
In 1492, Sultan Bayezid II
ordered the governors of the
provinces of the Ottoman
Empire "not to refuse the
Jews entry or cause them
difficulties, but to receive

them cordially." The edict
was enforced with the threat
of punishment.
Unlike the Christian
nation states of Europe,
Turkey not only permitted
the Jews to settle in Ot-
toman lands — then corn-
prising the present-day
countries Iran, Iraq, Syria,
Greece, Turkey, Palestine
and Yugoslavia — but en-
couraged, assisted and even
compelled them to emigrate.
It was thought that the
educated and financially ac-

Today, Turkish
Jews, numbering
between 22,000
and 24,000, are
virtually
indistinguishable
from non-Jewish
Turks.

complished Jews of Spain
could bring affluence and
European sophistication to
the Ottoman Empire. "The
Catholic monarch Ferdinand
impoverished Spain by the
expulsion of the Jews and
enriched Turkey," the
sultan is known to have said.
For 300 years following
the Inquisition, the prosper-
ity and creativity of the Ot-
toman Jews rivaled that of
the Golden Age of Spain.
Istanbul, Izmir, Safed and
Salonika became the centers
of Sephardic Jewry.
There, Jewish literature
flourished. Joseph Caro's
Shulchan Aruch and Shlomo
Halevi's (Lechah Dodi) have
become incorporated into
modern Jewish liturgy.
Ottoman Turkey in the
17th century was also the
home of Shabtai Tzvi, the
false Messiah who converted
to Islam.
But the Jewish
Renaissance in Turkey was
short-lived. The Ottoman
Empire may have saved the
Sephardic Jews from
physical destruction, but it
did not protect them from
the forces of assimilation.
By the 19th century, much
of the Judeo-Spanish culture
that the Jews had brought
over from Spain, including
the Ladino dialect and
music, had all but disap-
peared.
"What is most interesting
about the Turkish Jewish
experience is the intermingl-
ing of Jewish, Spanish and
Turkish culture and
customs," said Diane

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