Yiddish/Turkish connection explained to my satisfaction
- I would like to refocus on building our language, but here's my contribution
to the current sidebar on Yiddish. This is a recent article from the
Jerusalem Post. Apparently an important segment of Turkey's Jews speak
Yiddish, because they emigrated from Germany and Central Europe beginning in
the Middle Ages.
ITS ALL RELATIVE: Yiddish in Istanbul
By Schelly Talalay Dardashti
(September 6) - An island of Ashkenazi history and culture in Turkey
THE invitation to settle in the Ottoman Empire proffered by the Sultan to the
Jews of Spain - who faced expulsion in 1492 - remarked on their achievements.
Many responded and settled in Turkey, becoming very successful in their
adopted homeland. So large was the community, that one might have assumed all
Turkish Jews were descendants of those who were refugees from Spain and
A deep-rooted - although few in number - Ashkenazi community is centered in
Istanbul, and its leaders are trying to both preserve their heritage and
inform the world - and their own young people- about the community's history.
"OUR Istanbul Ashkenazi community has about 800 members, representing about
3% of the city's Jews," says Erdal Frayman, co-author of the recently
published "A hundred-year-old synagogue in Yuksekkaldirim: Ashkenazi Jews."
"Most of us are married to Sephardim, and we don't know how long our tiny
community will be active."
"We felt a book published on the centennial anniversary of our beautiful
synagogue would be a source for our children to learn about their roots and
for others to know a different culture."
Sales proceeds will be used to underwrite more research into Ashkenazi life
in the Ottoman Empire and in the early years of the Turkish Republic.
Printed in both Turkish and English, the book offers the widest possible
readership for its intended audience; its photographs are a rich portrayal of
community historical life, as are the discussions of community personalities.
Of particular genealogical interest is the accompanying booklet, Istanbul
ulus askenaz mezerligi gomu listesia (Burial list of the Istanbul Ulus
Authors Frayman, Robert Schild and Moshe Groseman are not professionals;
their main purpose in publishing the book is to keep Yiddishkeit alive in
Frayman, a textile exporter and chemical engineer, earned an MBA at George
Washington University (Washington, DC).
Schild, in the steel business, has a PhD in business administration, and is a
columnist for the weekly Jewish newspaper, Shalom.
Groseman, an accountant, is on the community's board, and is publisher of the
monthly magazine, Tiryaki.
IN Genesis 10:3 and Chronicles 1:6, "Ashkenaz" is used for the people who
lived between Armenia and north of the Euphrates and, in Middle Ages
rabbinical literature, it was a euphemism for Germany.
Jews lived in the Greek Colonies of the Black Sea coast as early as the 1st
century CE, according to the book. And, much later, when England, France and
Germany all banished their Jews to the east, they were welcomed in 15th
century Poland, where about 60 communities quickly shaped Ashkenazi culture.
Yiddish became the lingua franca of a wide geographical area, was used in
literature and research and became the daily secular language, while Hebrew
was the language of religion.
In 1648, the Greek Orthodox Bogdan Chmielnicki and the Crimean Tartars
rebelled against Poland. Although there was suffering among Roman Catholics
and nobles, the real victims were Jews - about 100,000 killed in five years.
Crimean slave traders captured thousands of Jewish survivors and sold them to
Italian, Moroccan and Ottoman Jewish communities, who ransomed them.
In 1795, Poland was split among Russia, Prussia and the Austrian-Hungarian
Empire, leaving most Jewish communities in Russia, between the Baltic and
Black Seas. The Jews in Austria-Hungary had a better life, and Russian Jews
were attracted by the improved living conditions.
ISTANBUL'S Ashkenazi community dates to the 14th century CE, when King Ludwig
of Bavaria drove away his Jews, who then settled in Ottoman areas:
Gallipolis, Ankara and Adrianople. Ashkenazi Rabbi Zarfatti invited German,
French, Hungarian Jews to live under the Ottomans in peace and prosperity.
Jews from Bavaria and other areas responded, moving to Sofia, Plevne,
Thessalonika and Istanbul.
In 1550, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent invited Ashkenazim once again. They
settled in Istanbul, Adrianople, Thessalonica, Palestine, etc., served by
In 1650, 300 Chmielnicki survivors were sold by slave traders; many were
ransomed by the Istanbul community. When Hungary rebelled against the
Ottomans in the 17th century, Ashkenazim fled from Hungary, Poland and
Ukraine to Sofia, Thessalonika and Smyrna.
And, in 1854, when the Ottoman Empire and its allies began the Crimean war
against Russia, about 400 Crimean Jewish families living in Kerch moved to
Istanbul, received citizenship and organized a synagogue.
In the late 1800s, Ashkenazim took over commerce between the
Austrian-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. Many Austrian Jews held high level
positions. The community, never more than a small percentage of the
population, became more important and received foreigners' privileges. They
set up their own synagogues, bet din (religious court), various institutions
and even butchers.
Paris-based Alliance Israelite Universalle, established in 1860, opened
schools throughout the Empire, and the German Jews Rescue Association
(Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden) was formed in 1901. The Goldschmidt School
opened in Galata in 1870, teaching the boys in German, while girls were
taught French at the Galata Alliance school.
IN 1900, the Austrian Jews invited a young rabbi, Dr. David Feivel Shraga
Markus, to run the Goldschmidt school and serve as community rabbi. Born
about 1871, in Novgorod, Russia, Markus arrived in December 1900.
Faced with an economically poor factionalized community, he saw religion was
not popular, and that Christian missionaries were very active. His goal
became education, and founded the Ohr Torah school, in Galata, to educate
future teachers and rabbis, and to counter the missionaries.
Markus spoke at Shabbat services (made compulsory for youth), organized
Sunday events for poor Russian and Romanian immigrants; and ran conferences
on Jewish philosophy and literature. The rabbi was much beloved, according to
community archive documents, by both the Ashkenazim and Sephardim for his
good works, although the two communities did not get along well. Marcus
attempted to bridge the gap by organizing a branch of International Bnai
Brith in 1911.
In 1912, Ashkenazim numbered 10,000, and Marcus signed an agreement with the
chief rabbinate on the community's staus. Unity was established among the
various Ashkenazi factions with a center in Galata.
In 1914, Marcus opened a Jewish high school - previous schools were primary
grades only. Initially named Yavne (later Bnai Brith/Bene Berit High School),
Marcus was director from 1916-17 and 1922-40. It opened with three grades and
Today, about 500 students, about one-third of the community's children, are
educated in English and Turkish, from primary through high school at its
modern facility in Ulus - the Ulus Jewish School.
FROM 1831-1866 (when it burned), a house in Hendek Street, Galata, was used
as a synagogue. The Austrians built a new one (The Austrian Temple) in
Yuksekkaldirim. In 1900, it was replaced by the current building, called the
Yuksekkaldirim Synagogue, designed by Venetian architect G.J. Cornaro, at a
cost of about 60,000 French francs.
Dedicated on Elul 23, 5660 (1900), guests included Austrian-Hungarian
ambassador Baron de Kalaci and Ottoman Empire chief rabbi Mose Halevi. The
Torah scrolls were placed by the chief rabbi, and Cantor Vladovski lit the
Ner Tamid (Eternal Lamp).
After Vladovski, Cantor Gerschon Schaposchnik (1902-1972) served the
synagogue for 40 years.
It is said, say the authors, that even the Christian priests would come to
hear him chant Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur. A composer and author, he adapted
works of Russian and European classical composers to prayers. Following him
were David Goldner and R. Yaakov Palci.
Rabbis of the community (I have taken the liberty of adding English
transliterations to the Turkish spelling) were Rabbi Moyse Kossoy, Rabbi
Sapira/Shapira, Rabbi Kusnir/Kushnir, Rabbi Osruel Segal, Rabbi Krimir
Simin/Shimin, Hazan David Rabinovic/Rabinovich.
DRESSMAKING and tailoring were two of the community's professions. Prominent
were Sultan Abdel Hamid II's tailor, Solomon Shloymi Weiner, and Ataturk's
hatmaker, Aaron Frayne.
The Ashkenazi Tailors' Association opened the Tofre Begadim (Tailors
Synagogue) for services in September 1894. While wealthier Jews preferred the
Yuksekkaldirim synagogue, the craftsmen preferred this one.
In 1998, the Galata Ashkenazim Cultural Association converted this building
into the Schneidertempel Arts Center, which hosts art exhibits.
Or Hadash Synagogue, built in 1895, provided religious services, a senior
care facility - Moshav Zekenim - and accommodation for travelers and poor
immigrants. It operated until 1963, when it moved to the Haskoy Jewish High
From 1912-1931, the community supported various charitable organizations:
Lehem ubasar la'aniyim (meat and bread for the poor) provided hot soup, meat
and bread for the needy, especially for Shabbat; Ruhama assisted pregnant
women and provided clothing and milk for babies. From 1907, Milk Drop, a
women's foundation, helped sick and weak children, distributed milk to school
children, and provided needy families with Shabbat and holiday necessities.
Until 1980, it also provided poor students with school supplies.
The cemetery register book begins in 1876; Jews were buried in Haskoy,
Kuzguncuk and Ferikoy cemeteries, some in Balat. The Crimean families were
given a cemetery in Sisli by the government.
In 1907, the community bought land in present day Ulus; first used in 1920,
and whose burials are listed in the separate booklet accompanying the book.
AND, in a great coincidence of timing, Kemal Ataturk's striving to modernize
Turkey included invitations to foreign scientists to come and work at the
Istanbul and Ankara universities. This call came as Nazi Germany had banned
Jews from universities and other occupations in the early 1930s - the only
way for Jews to survive was immigration. As the Ottoman Empire had opened its
borders 450 years previously to the Spanish Jews, Turkey created a safe haven
for men of science, culture and technology, who began arriving in October
After WWII, many returned to Europe, some went to the US or to Israel. They
left behind their assistants and students who became the mainstay of Turkish
universities for a full generation. And some remained in Turkey, continuing
their achievements in their adopted homeland. The book lists those in the
fields of medical science, law, economics, linguistics and history, applied
sciences, music and the arts.
WHEN asked about the future of the community's young people, Erdal says,
"Many of our young people stay, as the country has an active economic life, a
great social life, and the Jews are rather well integrated into the large
population, its culture and education." During the holidays, the community
brings an Israeli cantor who conducts services.
The historical Schneider Temple (Tailor's Synagogue), now an art gallery, has
created interest in the community and what it means to be Ashkenazi. This
year, it hosted a Holocaust exhibition and other important art presentations.
"We welcome visitors to both the synagogue and the art gallery. We encourage
them to visit, creating interest in our community," says Erdal Frayman.
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