Special to the JTA the Aftermath of a Tragedy: Funeral Services Held for Victims of Terrorist Carnag
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Special to the JTA the Aftermath of a Tragedy: Funeral Services Held for Victims of Terrorist Carnag

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Funeral services for the 21 Jews murdered by terrorists while at worship in the Neve Shalom synagogue here last Saturday were held Wednesday in the very same sanctuary were the carnage took place.

The blood stains had been removed. But the walls were charred by the fire set by the killers in an attempt to destroy the bodies of the dead and dying. An aura of death and destruction still hovered over the place and was sensed by the thousand mourners who packed the chamber where normally 400 congregants would constitute a capacity.

They stood pressed together, swaying weeping and praying. Men and women fainted. There were heart-rending outcries from the spouses and mothers of the victims. Ida Baruch, who had watched from the women’s gallery her husband being riddled by bullets, cried out, “Evil men killed my husband in the house of God.”

“God, how could you allow that to happen,” Ayal Alzir cried repeatedly. She had seen both her son, the synagogue cantor, and her grandson die under a hail of machinegun bullets and grenade fragments. Hers was the eternal question of the loved ones of victims: Why? The Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Mordechai Eliahu, seated on the platform next to Turkey’s Chief Rabbi, David Asseo, gave the only answer he knew: “Who can fathom the ways of God?”

There are 5,000 Jewish families in Istanbul and every one was represented at the funeral. Jewish business all over the city had closed long before noon when the services were scheduled to begin. The streets outside the synagogue, normally bustling with commerce, were a solid mass of humanity.


Mourners came from all over the world. Jewish leaders from Europe, the United States and Israel attended the services, among them Chief Rabbi Rene Sirat of France and the Chief Rabbis of Holland, Sweden and Yugoslavia. There were many diplomats too. The U.S. was represented by its Ambassador to Turkey, Robert Strausz-Hupe. The French Ambassador was on hand as was the Israeli Charge d’Affaires from Ankara, Yehuda Millo. Israel and Turkey have diplomatic relations, but not on the Ambassadorial level.

The Turkish authorities were severely shaken by the synagogue attack. Prime Minister Turgut Ozal’s government was represented at the funeral by his Interior Minister, Yildirim Akbulut. The Governor of Istanbul province, Nevat Ayaz, attended, accompanied by the Mayor of Istanbul, Bedrettin Dalan, and senior military officers.

Many Christian churches were represented. But the Mufti of Istanbul was not there, nor any other Moslem clergymen. The absence seemed to reflect an opinion prevalent in influential segments of Moslem society and expressed by a rightwing politician who wrote earlier in the week that the massacre did not occur in a house of God because God dwells only in mosques.

Chief Rabbi Asseo officiated at the services, assisted by the five dayanim of the Istanbul Bet Din. A cantor chanted the opening prayers in a clear, grief stricken voice, interrupted repeatedly by cries of anguish from bereaved mothers and widows.

Services were late in starting because of the crowds and spontaneous outpourings of grief. When they ended, thousands jammed into cars and buses for the funeral procession. The victims, all Sephardic Jews, were buried at the Ashkenazic cemetery–save for two, visiting Israelis, whose bodies were flown home and buried Tuesday in Jerusalem. The Ashkenazic cemetery was used because there is no room for fresh graves in the Sephardic cemetery.

The Neve Shalom killers were Arabs, probably Palestinians, and their motivation was hatred of Israel. But Israel was not mentioned in the only speech at the synagogue services. It was delivered by the leader of Istanbul’s Jewish community, Jaque Veissid. “They were good Turks and good Turkish Jews,” he said of the victims. They were singled out for slaughter because “in today’s world, moral values are eroding,” he said.

Chief Rabbi Eliahu told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he came here to offer condolences to Jews and Turks alike for the tragedy. He said Israel would offer replacements for the Neve Shalom synagogue functionaries who were killed. He expressed hope that young Turkish Jews would come to Israel to study. He urged all diaspora Jews to come to Israel. “But not because of what happened here,” he added.

Eliahu attended the funeral in place of Israel’s Minister for Religious Affairs Yosef Burg. The Turkish authorities refused to admit him for the occasion because they did not want an Israeli political figure attending in official capacity.

The authorities so far have no clues as to the identity of the killers, who blew themselves up with a grenade, or the terrorist group they represented. Investigators here told the JTA that the terrorists are believed to have come from Syria and had a secret hideout in Istanbul prearranged by an unnamed embassy which brought their weapons into Turkey some time before.

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