Historic Turkish synagogues get new lease of life


ONCE a jewel of the Diaspora, 150 years ago the Jewish community of Izmir on Turkey’s Aegean coast was 30,000-strong.

It was the hometown of notable figures, from the Ladino singer Dario Moreno to the renowned Rabbi Haim Pallachi to the infamous false messiah Shabbetai Tzvi.

Today, the city’s Jewish community has dwindled to barely 1,000 members. But Izmir’s residents and visitors will soon be able to get a taste of what the city was like when it was home to the third largest Jewish community in the Ottoman empire.

Thanks to the Izmir Jewish heritage project, nine historic synagogues in Izmir’s old town, known as Kemeralti, have been restored and in June will be open to the public as museums.

The area, not far from a promenade on the gulf of Izmir, is one of the largest open markets in the world, attracting tourists from all over Europe and beyond.

“You can find anything you want there — you can taste any food, smell any scent,” said Nesim Bencoya, director of the heritage project.

Today, its skyline is dominated by the minarets of its many mosques and the spires of churches belonging to the Greek Orthodox community, whose members were once also a defining feature of Izmir’s diversity.

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