Jews Whose Families Came from Turkey Are Bitter over the Massacre
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Jews Whose Families Came from Turkey Are Bitter over the Massacre

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Jews in the metropolitan area, whose families had immigrated to the United States from Turkey, and religious leaders spoke with bitterness and sorrow over the terrorist rampage Saturday in Istanbul.

Rabbi Marc Angel, spiritual leader of the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue in New York, Congregation Shearith Israel, recalled, in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, that his mother’s family came from a town outside Istanbul, Tekirdag, and his grandmother from the Island of Marmara, sites of 500-year-old Jewish communities that had come to Turkey from Spain and Portugal at the time of the Inquisitions.

“The Jews of Turkey are generally very mild-mannered, low-key and they don’t like to draw attention to themselves,” Angel said.

“They’re very patriotic, very loyal to Turkey.” The rabbi, who was in Istanbul two summers ago, has a cousin who currently serves in the Turkish army.

Reflecting on the massacre of the Sabbath worshippers, Angel said: “If there can be an attack on Jews and freedom-loving people, who is safe? If you give terrorists an opportunity to disrupt freedom, then this is a challenge to all of us.

“When things like this happen, it tends to strengthen the Jewish resolve and Israeli resolve. We’ve had our sufferings, and this is another chapter in the long litany of martyrs, and what this does is to strengthen the resolve of the Jewish people. The Jewish people will not bow to tyranny.”

Leon Levy, president of the American Sephardi Federation, whose family’s roots are also in the town of Tekirdag, said of the massacre: “This points out that Jews all over must band together and care for one another … if even in a friendly country such as Turkey none of us is immune from terrorist attacks … It parallels what happened in the Yom Kippur War, using a holy day to carry out an attack.”


Levy’s daughter, Janet, a New York lawyer, visited Istanbul last week, her second visit to Turkey, where she sought her roots, and was in the Neve Shalom Synagogue on Wednesday, watching workers refurbishing the synagogue for the Sabbath service, the first which was to be held in the newly-renovated surroundings. Janet Levy remembered them polishing the benches and cleaning ceiling and pulpit. She told the JTA that she feels completely shocked by the attack. Even though the synagogue is situated in a vulnerable position, on a busy avenue, she said she felt absolutely no tension. She also related visiting shops in Istanbul where non-Jewish owners engaged her in constant conversations, interested in her origins and inquisitive about her Jewish background, but always with respect and no ulterior motives other than friendliness.

Rabbi Milton Poland, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said, “We anxiously await the condemnation of this barbaric act by the leaders of other religious communities and the punishment by the government involved against those who plotted and carried out this dastardly act.”


Pope John Paul II condemned the terrorist attacks on both the Pan Am jumbo jet in Karachi and the attack on the Istanbul synagogue. Speaking from the summit of a mountaintop in northwest Italy, where he was on a mountain-climbing expedition, the Pope said, “Faced with events so horrendous and almost incredible, the yearning for peace is transformed into anguish.” He added that the two terrorist attacks had wounded the conscience of humanity.

“Blood of brothers in travel, blood of brothers gathered in place of prayer” has been spilled, the Pontiff said. “It is necessary that without delay everything possible must be done to put an end to the unending spiral of hate and terrorism.” A Vatican spokesperson said the Pope was “extremely saddened” because of the attack in a place of worship.

Meanwhile, the Synagogue Council of America (SCA), the umbrella organization of the congregational and rabbinic bodies of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements in America, have called an emergency meeting for Monday afternoon to develop outreach programs to the Jewish community in Istanbul and to “offer any and all assistance possible.”

Rabbi Herbert Baumgard, president of the SCA, said “These tragic criminal acts must once and for all come to an end.” He called for a united front of governments of goodwill regardless of political persuasions to develop “strong action efforts” to counteract such terrorist offensives.

A memorial service for the victims of the synagogue attack is being coordinated by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York to be held Tuesday at noon at the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel. Rabbinic and community leaders are expected, as well as representatives of the Turkish and Israeli governments.

According to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Presidents Conference, “It is our hope that this memorial service is an expression of both our outrage at this dastardly act as well as our solidarity with the Jewish community of Turkey. This was an attack on the entire Jewish people. It is regrettable that it takes such tragedies to galvanize us into action. We must see to it that action is taken to put an end to such terrorist attacks by consistent pressure, and not simply by responding each time there are more sacrifices.”

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