31 August 2018

How Do I Travel the World • Part 2 (Istanbul, 5712 km)

(Istanbul, 26.08.2018 - 30.08.2018) From The Istanbul Insider we learn on the Istanbul Jewish Community as follows: "The vast majority of the Jewish community in Turkey (currently estimated at around 26.000 people) lives in Istanbul. This is only a fraction of the 500,000 Jews that once lived in Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire - a time when Jews and Christians made up 40% of Istanbul’s population. [...] The current Turkish community is a remnant of the great influx that took place during the Spanish inquisition in 1492. Sephardic Jews (or Spanish Jews) were forced to convert to Christianity or flee their homes. Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II granted these Jews (with their European scientific and economic knowledge) to take refuge in the Ottoman Empire and allowed them to live on the banks of the Golden Horn. Also Russian Jews fleeing the pogroms in the 19th century and the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 found refuge in Turkey. And in 1933 Atatürk invited famous scientists under threat in Nazi Germany and Austria to find shelter and settle in Turkey. Turkey also served as a safe passage for many Jews fleeing the horrors of Nazism during World War II. Unfortunately, a series of events triggered a massive emigration of Jews from Istanbul. First there was the wealth tax (Varlık Vergisi) of 1942. Although aimed at wealthy Turks, its effect on the Jewish community was catastrophic. An estimated 30.000 Jews, unable to pay their debts, fled the country. Secondly there was the Istanbul pogrom of 6/7 September 1955 against the Greek, Jewish, and Armenian communities of Istanbul. Although more material then physical damage was done, this caused another massive emigration of these minorities, with some 10.000 more Jews fleeing Turkey."

I visited a dozen of synagogues, displayed by GoogleMaps or AppleMaps, nevertheless difficult to locate since the mapping was partly inaccurate. As you can see, ten out of twelve Istanbul synagogues have more than the Jewish religion in common: barbwire, cameras, police checks, security guards, alarm systems, spot lights and much else. Two synagogues can afford to refrain from such safety measures. The Abudara Synagogue is a ruined building and the back of the Aşkenazi Synagogue, both in Beyoğlu, hosts a brothel, the "doormen" being even more deterrent than regular police forces. I can't help it, all this has nothing to do with a normal and free practice of religion.

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