Sephardi Group Praises Turkey for Help 500 Years Ago and Now

A delegation of Sephardic Jews who came here to express appreciation for the hospitality extended to the Jews by the Ottoman Empire 500 years ago have also given thanks for the protection Turkey is now giving Jewish institutions that have been targets of terrorist attacks.

The group of 40, headed by Nessim Gaon of Geneva, president of the World Sephardi Federation, arrived in the Turkish capital Sunday, when the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul was attacked with hand grenades by two assailants.

Only one of two grenades exploded, and the only casualty was a blind passerby, who suffered minor injuries. No damage was done to the synagogue and one of the assailants was captured.

Gaon observed that the assault might have been more serious were it not for the police protection at the synagogue.

That protection was beefed up considerably after the 1986 machine gun and grenade attack on the same synagogue killed 22 Sabbath worshippers and the two terrorists who executed it.

Gaon said he was confident the Turkish authorities would apprehend and punish those responsible for the latest attack.

At a meeting Monday morning at the presidential palace here in Ankara, Gaon and his delegation presented the World Sephardi Federation’s first Star of Peace award to both President Turgut Ozal of Turkey and Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel.

The Star of Peace, a Star of David juxtaposed with the crescent emblem of Turkey, symbolizes “the Judeo-Turkish traditions that have allowed our people to flourish together throughout the centuries in peace and tolerance,” Gaon said.

The award, mounted on wood, is made of gold encrusted with rubies and diamonds.

‘A SPIRIT OF TOLERANCE’

In his presentation to Demirel, Gaon said Turkey “has provided a spirit of tolerance that can well serve as a model for the entire region.”

Demirel responded, “If the Arab, Jewish and Turkish people can live together in peace, together we can achieve many things.”

“We hope we have shown exemplary behavior over the last 500 years between Turks and Jews. We hope we have been an example for mankind and a model for others,” the prime minister said.

The visit to Turkey was the first leg of a “Sephardi Odyssey” undertaken to mark the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of Jews from Spain and their dispersion across Europe and North Africa, as far east as Turkey, where they were warmly received.

The Odyssey will continue later this year with journeys to other historic centers of Sephardic life: Egypt, Morocco, Brazil and Chile. Local branches of the World Federation will hold events in France, Britain, Holland and Switzerland.

The American delegation participating in the Odyssey to Turkey included Jack Nasser, treasurer, and Agajam Nassimi, vice president, of the World Sephardi Federation; and Leon Levy, president, and Raymond Mallel, vice president, of the American Sephardi Federation.

Alberto Nasser of Rio de Janeiro, chairman of the World Federation’s board of governors, headed the Latin American delegation. Other participants came from Canada, Mexico and Israel.

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