Touring Turkey's Synagogues

Davening on the Bosphorus and Beyond

Worship: Neve Shalom is one of the rare synagogues in Turkey still in regular use.
Chadica/Wikimedia Commons
Worship: Neve Shalom is one of the rare synagogues in Turkey still in regular use.

By Mark I. Pinsky

Published December 21, 2012, issue of December 28, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 4)

IZMIR

Guided Jewish heritage tours can be pricy — up to $300 per person per day. At a much lower price, we made an exception to our no-guides policy when we flew from Istanbul to Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, once called Smyrna, on the east coast. We contacted a leading member of the Jewish community, Rozet Alaluf, who sometimes escorts visitors. At first, she was reluctant to accept us without references, but then she relented to our pleading. A community matriarch who donates her fee to the Jewish establishment, Rozet embraced us like a solicitous grandmother and even scolded us for staying in the wrong part of town — a district the Jews long ago abandoned after improving their status.

Our first stop was the Street of Synagogues, a narrow, winding lane that is home to six to eight synagogues, depending on whether you count several burnt-out ruins, most dating back 300 years or more. In keeping with kabbalist tradition, brought from Tzfat, as well as Muslim custom, most of their interiors are blue. The synagogues usually featured a central dome, supported by wooden columns, with tiled walls and floors covered with rugs and stone benches dotted with pillows along the walls. By Ottoman decree, none of the hundreds of synagogues built in Turkey could be taller than any mosque.

One of those on the Street of Synagogues is La Signora Synagogue, which was remodeled after the fire of 1941. It is believed to be one of the few congregations in the world named for a woman, the 16th-century philanthropist Doña Gracia Nasi.

Across town, near the harbor, Rozet accompanied us by taxi to the early 20th-century Bet Israel, where an octagonal central dome and wooden pillar support an upper gallery that is home to a small but well-designed museum. Like Neve Shalom in Istanbul, it hosts major services and social events. Here, as at every other Izmir synagogue we went to, there was a plaque honoring some member of Rozet’s extended family, the Alalufs. At each synagogue, she sternly reminded us to leave at least a small donation to help with maintenance.

Not far from Izmir are the Roman ruins at Ephesus, where a crude menorah can be seen carved into the stone steps of the library, and one of the buildings nearby is thought to be a synagogue. An hour’s drive in another direction, at Sardis, are the restored ruins of a 3rd-century B.C.E. synagogue — including a mosaic floor, Greek and Hebrew inscriptions and a pulpit flanked by Roman eagles.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.