Itongadol.- Turkey’s usually closed and self-effacing Jewish community on Sunday held its first public menorah lighting since the founding of the Republic nearly a century ago, marking a possible shift in how the local community interacts with the larger surrounding society.
Community representatives, alongside local dignitaries and foreign diplomats lit the final Hanukka candle on Sunday evening in the Istanbul neighborhood of Ortaköy.
“I wish peace, happiness and welfare to all Jews, primarily Turkey’s Jewish citizens who are an inseparable part of our society, on the occasion of Hanukka,” Erdogan said in a statement quoted by the Turkish media.
“On the occasion of Hanukka, I wish a culture of peace and tolerance to dominate the world and an immediate end to violence and hatred,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was quoted by the Hurriyet Daily News as saying.
According to the Jewish Salom newspaper, community chairman İshak İbrahimzadeh said that he believed that attitudes toward Jews were changing in Turkey and that the community was experiencing a “turning point.”
“Every sector began to shake prejudices, and fears to overcome marginalization,” he said, citing the fears and attitudes that forced the Jewish community to turn in on itself and shun outward shows of religious observance.
Despite the intense pressures felt by many Jews in Turkey, the local media was quick to play up the Ottoman Empire’s historic acceptance of Jews fleeing persecution in Christian Europe, with the Daily Sabah newspaper reporting that “the community rejects allegations in news sources or dailies that the Turkish state promotes anti-Semitism in the country” and citing a statement by the community that “pressure from the state is out of the question.”
The official policy of the Turkish Jewish community has long been one of studied silence. Two years ago, this reporter visited Istanbul and spoke with congregants at one of the city’s synagogues who expressed a strong affinity for Israel. Standing behind the thick steel doors of the synagogue, protected by guards, those who spoke with The Jerusalem Post denied feeling any fear in Turkey but they all declined to allow themselves to be quoted by name.
The official Jewish communal bodies declined to speak, either in person or by phone, and soon after publication, they contacted The Jerusalem Post through an intermediary to request the article on their community be taken off-line.
“The Turkish Jewish community will prefer to keep their mouths shut because of their public safety, and they are right to do this,” one emigré explained to the Post afterward.
Such reticence has long been a defining feature of the community, which was largely silent during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded that it denounce the Jewish state’s actions in Gaza.
Sixty-nine percent of Turks harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, according to the Anti-Defamation League and a study conducted earlier this year by the Hrant Dink Foundation found that anti-Semitism is the most common racial or religious prejudice in the Turkish media.