Edirne Speech of Turkish Jewish Community President İshak İbrahimzadeh, March 27, 2015, SALOM
Blessed are thou, O God, our Lord, King of the Universe, who protects the widowed. Blessed art thou, who honors the Blessed.
“Blessed are thou, O God, our Lord, King of the Universe, who protects the widowed. “
“Those who honor the blessed shall be blessed. “
Dear Deputy Prime Minister,
Dear Members of the Parliament,
Dear Director of General Directorate for Foundations,
Dear Ecumenical Patriarch,
Marsel’s, Violet’s, Yasef’s, Soli’s, Moiz’s, Sara’s, Beto’s, Niso’s, Roza’s childhood friends... I see one of them sitting upstairs.
Cuneyt is here. As you all know, on Sabbath we do not use electricity. Therefore years ago, the Jews who lived here used to call Cuneyt and ask for his help… Cuneyt would turn off the lights for them and they used to give him candies to thank him. Welcome Cuneyt!
And, my dear Community that I’m privileged and proud to be representing here today.
Today, we are witnessing history, a milestone. But before I go on with my speech, I would like to thank all those who contributed and made this day possible. When I say thank you to everyone, I would especially like to thank those who actually work here, in this Synagogue: Dear Osman, I hope we’re not bothering you so much. Thank you!
As you can see, I am very excited. But not only from the opening, I am also excited because my mother is here today, to see her son…
Yes, today, this place is a momentous day for us, however today is also the day we commemorate our soldiers who died as martyrs 102 years ago while defending Edirne. Before coming here we prayed for their souls at our cemetery and here I bow before their memory with respect and commemorate them with compassion and gratitude. We were fortunate to have them, we are fortunate to have Edirne...
On March 26, 1913, after the fall of Edirne, Commander Vizof, leader of those who took over the city, went to meet Chief Rabbi of Edirne at the time, Rabbi Bicerano and asks him “how he feels”. Rabbi Bicerano replied, “We feel like a beloved who has just been widowed…”
However, the separation does not last long. Edirne Jews, who think they lost the Ottoman Empire and their Ottoman identity forever, regain them both, only six months later.
Twenty years ago, due to the laws enforced at those years, we lost our Edirne Synagogue’s ownership, leaving it widowed. We thought our Synagogue would never be reunited with its congregation and its Torah. But today is the day we reunite with our Synagogue, our beloved.
On behalf of my community, I would like to welcome you all to this ceremony where taboos that were created as a result of experienced helplessness will be broken through the integration of the landlord and the homeowner - at this holy place.
As my ‘older brother’ dear Naim Güleryüz informed us, Sultan Abdul Hamid approved the construction of this magnificent, yet due to the tones of colors used in its decoration also modest, Synagogue which reflects the moralities and rich cultural wealth of the Jewish community of the time... In that vein, we brought the seats on which you are sitting today from the “Hemdat Israel” – Kadikoy Synagogue in Istanbul, a synagogue named specifically to resemble the Sultan’s name “Hamid”…
And then again, just a few weeks ago when the world-known author and man of letters Yasar Kemal passed away, we once again remembered and learned that the Sultan’s Chief Surgeon was Jak Mandil Pasa, the grandfather of Yasar Kemal’s first wife, Tilda.
However, the questions linger, why were we forced to perceive an altered view of Sultan Abdul Hamid? Why were we forced to perceive that there was a different kind of relationship between the Jews and the Sultan!?
Why we who ‘share a common faith’, as Ms. Asli stated in her opening speech, were discriminated and marginalized as a result of this twisted account and other similar fictitious accounts?
Why when reporting about today’s opening, do media outlets caption their headlines with “the day when tolerance is restored”? Why do we need to restore tolerance?
And while Sultan Abdul Hamid lived in total harmony, understanding and trust of his loyal people, why then were all Jews incriminated for betrayal and condemned to destruction, being blamed for the problems he experienced during his rule through conspiracy theories based on one Jew?
Unfortunately, the Jews faced such kinds of expressions and sufferings together with rising discrimination and marginalization based on the concept of “minority” - during their transition from ‘loyal people’ status to ‘citizen’ status. These were the primary reasons why once there were 20.000 Jews living in Edirne alone, while today there are only 17.000 Jews living over all Turkey out together...
Unfortunately, we feel bound to explain that we are loyal and constructive citizens of this country at every occasion and whenever we face an expression or a speech that implicates that Jews are behind all bad incidents that ever happen…. and occasionally even implies that Judaism is the enemy of the state consequently positioning Jews as traitors in people’s subconscious. It is unfortunate that this sort of understanding can even exist at public and government institutions…
Being stuck at the impasse caused by the insolubleness of the vortex created by this vicious cycle, we were unable to progress and instead we retired into ourselves, as our community lost hope for the future and gradually, decreased in numbers…
The reopening of our Edirne Synagogue today is the best response our government gives to this ‘created’ history, expressions and discrimination.
It is truly a milestone for us, thank you!
With the Government’s initiative, now for the first time, our Government once again overcame prejudice and broke the taboos. Our Edirne Synagogue, one of the immovable properties belonging to minority foundations, properties that have been in the past confiscated for preservation purposes - based on the ‘single member district law’, has been put back to service.
It’s true that we still have a long way ahead of us; however I am grateful that there is a path we can progress on - and you opened this path for us.
Three people especially have changed our outlook on the future. One of them is the Director of the General Directorate for Foundations, Mr. Adnan Ertem who has a special place in the hearts of all minority communities. He once said in one of his statements that “Edirne Synagogue will be significant for Jewish citizens, just as Selimiye Mosque is significant for Muslim citizens”. The other is our Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Bülent Arınç who since the beginning of this change and renovation period has broken our taboos with his statements and set an example to all of us with his genuineness. The other one is our Prime Minister Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu who after taking over the Prime Ministry post, expanded and improved this path of change.
In this context, I would like to make a confession in front of all of you.
I first met our President five years ago at his office. While discussing the issue of minority rights he said to us “Laws shall be enacted to honor the rights and those who hold those rights”… At that time, I thought his statement was only a conventional one.
However, there have been some developments since then such as bestowing legal entity to our Izmir Community, the return of ownership of properties that once belonged to minority foundations, the support given to our Schools and needy, the joy we feel here today... These developments once again broke my taboos and turned all of them into hope.
Our dear President, You have created this change, thank you very much.
While we advance towards our goal for 2023, we believe and trust in Turkey’s tomorrow. We believe and trust in Turkey’s tomorrow; the term “minority” shall be lost in the definition of “citizen”, marginalization will turn into integration, the wealth of diversity will evolve into the power of unity, those who use hate speeches - a threat to all of us as individuals and as a whole - in order to propagate seeds of animosity will be eliminated from the source with the power of law.
Therefore, even though today there is no longer a Jewish Community in Edirne, for the first time we are here together with such a crowd.
On our way back home, while those with Edirne origin will be leaving here with their childhood memories - those of Van, Gaziantep, Çorlu, Çanakkale, Gelibolu and Milas origins, - where there are no Jewish Communities left - will leave here with nostalgia for the places they had to abandon. And as for us, people who live in Istanbul, we are leaving here with the hope that after this milestone we all witnessed today, our grandchildren will not visit the places we lived only as tourists, but will also maintain our continuity as a community…
Dear Director of General Directorate for Foundations,
After such a joyous occasion which you made possible, we are returning to our homes with great enthusiasm, knowing that we delivered the legacy of our children, the guide of our lives, our dear Torah, here, to our home. I would also like to state that we have no doubt in our minds that when our synagogue will be open to general visits, General Directorate for Foundations will protect our Torah and respect our holy days with uttermost sensitivity..
I would like to end my speech with a tenet from Torah as it’s a tradition in our Synagogues.
According to Jewish calendar, the month of Nissan that just started, was designated by God as the first month. Because during this month we celebrate Passover, the holiday which marks the exodus from Egypt, our historical beginning.
Egypt in Hebrew is “Mitsrayim” which translates to “limits”, and we celebrate during the month of Nissan the freedom from these limits.
Passover is the holiday that celebrates embarking on a new journey with hope. By enabling us to apprehend the state we were in when we imprisoned ourselves within the walls of prejudice, a state that at times we create with our egos and lack of confidence, when faced by a world of despair… and then by enabling us to self-criticize ourselves through the awareness created by the Matza, and unleavened bread - which apprehends us to what is Holy, Passover gives us power and hope to stand against Pharaohs we create in our minds...
As long as we can criticize ourselves like we did today here, and as long as we can restore yesterday’s strong ties, we can convey Edirne’s, our frontier city’s, exemplary message to the world that lost its awareness of understanding and love.
I wish this unity we see here today, will contribute to the saying “Peace at Home, Peace in the World”.
May your path and paths be clear, our country Turkey... My Turkey…
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