Sunday night’s Hanukkah celebration in Istanbul. Photo: Courtesy.
It may be the only public menorah-lighting ceremony ever held in the Muslim world, and on Sunday night, hundreds of people gathered in Istanbul’s waterside Ortakoy neighborhood for an eighth-day-of-Hanukkah celebration.
Musicians played Hanukkah songs, people sang and the head of Turkey’s modest Jewish community of about 17,000 was represented.
The event was led by Turkish Jewish Community President Isaac Ibrahmizadeh, and was attended by the US and Spanish consuls general, as well as Turkish officials at the deputy level, a source in the Turkish Jewish community told TheAlgemeiner on Monday.
“The Jewish Community in Istanbul was very joyful and proud. Seeing and experiencing something like this was beyond their dreams,” said the source. “Lots of peace messages, words of understanding and respect among each other.”
“In Edirne we experienced a milestone, but today in here we are experiencing a miracle,” said Ibrahimzadeh at the ceremony, fully equipped with a menorah about five feet tall, just in front of the iconic Ortakoy Mosque, on the banks of the Bosphorous. The Jewish leader was referring to the highly-publicized reopening of a major Jewish synagogue in the city of Edirne in northeastern Turkey.
Both Edirne and the Istanbul ceremony came amid reports of rising antisemitism and a diminishing Jewish population in predominantly Muslim Turkey. According to Reuters, reporting the re-dedication of the Great Synagogue in Edirne, the Jewish population of Turkey has shrunk by more than a third in the last 25 years.
Today, most Turkish Jews live in Israel, though once-robust relations between Ankara and Jerusalem have long-soured under Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who infamously compared Israel’s military policies toward the Palestinians to “genocide.”