Standing in Istanbul

Published November 21, 2003, issue of November 21, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Dispersed though we may be, there are moments when all Jews come together in one spot, or so it’s said. Tradition teaches that we all stood together at Mount Sinai to receive the Law. Sociologists tell us that we all, or nearly all, sit together around the Seder table and gather together for Atonement prayers. And last Saturday we were all in Istanbul.

We were all there in the Neve Shalom synagogue, rising in unison as 13-year-old Aaron Cohen prepared to chant his bar mitzvah portion, only to have the roof fall in on us in a shower of broken glass. We were all huddled in the ruins of the Beth Israel synagogue, cradling the body of 8-year-old Anet Rubinstein in our arms, searching desperately around us for her grandmother Anna, only to find her two days later, buried in the wreckage. We all stood at the graveside in Ashkenaz Cemetery for the burial on Tuesday of Berta Ozdogan, the bar mitzvah boy’s cousin, five months pregnant with her first child. And we all stood miles away at the graveside of her husband Ahmet, who often joined her in life at synagogue services but could not be buried with her because he was Muslim.

The Istanbul bombings, which left 25 dead, are the latest and deadliest in a worldwide wave of attacks, both physical and verbal, that have come to be known as “the new antisemitism.” Another attack occurred almost simultaneously a continent away in a Paris suburb, this one an arson attack on a Jewish school. No one was killed at the school, yet the attack only served to reinforce the embattled feelings shared by Jews around the world.

We are right to have our guard up. History has taught us that an attack on one Jew is an attack on all Jews, and that each attack, unanswered, prepares the ground for the next one. The wave of hatred now sweeping the world ought to stir consciences everywhere. And indeed, the Istanbul bombings seem to have gotten through here and there where past atrocities had not. French President Jacques Chirac convened a ministerial task force to begin tackling his country’s own antisemitism problem. Even the new Malaysian prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, allowed that attacks like these — targeting “other religions’ houses of worship” — must inevitably “tarnish the image of Islam.” If even a few such leaders have been shamed into acting or even rethinking, that is to the good.

At the same time, this threat must make us rethink, too. Al Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist network believed to be behind the Istanbul bombings, considers itself at war with the West and its moderate Muslim allies. The worldwide Jewish community is a distinct part of that imagined enemy, but only a part. Four Al Qaeda-linked attacks during the last two years — in Tunisia, Kenya, Morocco and now Turkey — were aimed at Jewish targets; yet many more, in New York and Washington, Dar es-Salaam, Bali, Manila, Jakarta, Baghdad, Nasiriyah and a week ago in Riyadh, were aimed at Western or even Muslim targets. Nineteen of the 25 victims in Istanbul were Muslims.

There is much that is new about this new antisemitism, and we overlook it at our peril. The old kind left us alone and friendless. The new kind drives us together with allies, some familiar ones, some less so. Our fate is joined with theirs. They were there, too.

But much of what is happening is dreadfully old and familiar. The shouting mobs, the shattered glass, the lines of fresh graves — we have seen it all before, too many times to count. Yes, we are alarmed. Those who think we are being paranoid should open up their history books.

Find us on Facebook!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war?
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah:
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • 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.