The existence of a long -forgotten tiny Jewish community in the remote Kurdish village of Cukurca, in south-eastern Turkey, was discovered today when all 26 members of the community straggled into Istanbul on donkeys, guarded by a police escort, ready to leave for Israel.
Neither the general run of Turkish Jews nor historians of the Jewish community in Turkey were aware of these Jews until today, although they claim that their ancestors settled in the region of Cukurca, near the Iraq border, some 2,000 years ago. Up to six years ago, the ancient community maintained its own synagogue, but at that time the Kurds burned it to the ground.
The 26 Jews, who will remain in a synagogue in Istanbul until they can sail for Israel, reported that in recent years their Moslem neighbors have been alternately urging and threatening them in an effort to convert them to Islam. The move to Istanbul, en route to Israel, was opposed by the Kurds. Fearing an attack, all members of the Jewish community assembled in their infinitesimal ghetto and maintained an armed watch for 43 days and nights.
Finally the leader of the community managed to slip past his Moslem “neighbors” to the nearby town of Hakari. There he told his story to the local Mayor. The Mayor dispatched a police unit to escort the Jews to safety. The trip to safety was made on donkeys and took three days because there are no roads in that remote section of mountainous Anatolia.
PRESERVED MANY OF THE ANCIENT JEWISH TRADITIONS; SPEAK ARAMAIC
While the Jews were making their preparations for the journey, a 14-year-old boy was kidnapped by the Kurds in an attempt to convert him. The boy, Mordechai Dokumaci, refused to change his religion, telling his captors that he would die first.
When the community reached safety, its leader appealed to the Turkish national police department and to the Ministries of Interior and Justice to rescue the boy. After an investigation, the police department sent a strong detachment to Cukurca and rescued Mordechai.
The Jews of Cukurca still speak Aramaic. They have preserved many of the ancient Jewish traditions, including Kashruth and keeping the Sabbath as well as the Jewish holy days. They still use Biblical names such as Abraham and Rachel. After the destruction of their synagogue they met in private homes to conduct services.
Two years ago they gave a party of Israel-bound Iraqi Jews who passed Curkurca two very ancient and valuable Torahs to take to Israel. This time, although they left all their possessions except for some clothing, they managed to rescue all their religious books, which are extremely old. Back in their village they left a cemetery in which there are tombstones dating back 1,000 years. They never intermarried with their Moslem neighbors and were in no way assimilated.
Most of the adults are weavers. However, they have declared that in Israel they would be willing to work at any occupation offered them. The expenses for their care while they remain in Istanbul will be borne by the Jewish Agency, which is arranging early passage to Israel.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.