WATCH: A Journey Into Jewish Istanbul

Jewish Discoveries and Harry D. Wall
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Ashkenazi synagogue, Istanbul. Credit: Richard Nowitz
Jewish Discoveries and Harry D. Wall

A visit to Istanbul, where Jews have lived for over 500 years, reveals a small, tight-knit community, exquisite synagogues and and a rising concern about anti-Semitism.

Jewish life is centered in the Beygolu district, close to the iconic Galata Tower. It is today a popular hub of narrow streets, nouveau architecture trendy restaurants, and young, hipster lifestyle. There, near the iconic Galata tower, you will find Neve Shalom and other synagogues. Nearby is the Jewish Museum of Turkey.  During the summer, Istanbul’s Jews decamp in large numbers to Buyucada Island, about an hour’s ferry ride in the Bosphorus Straits, with synagogues, a Jewish club and kosher food on the serene retreat.

Neve Shalom Synagogue, Istanbul. Photo by Richard Nowitz

Sephardic Jews who fled Spain in the 15th Century were welcomed, even recruited to the Ottoman Empire. They have lived in Istanbul with respect and in peace for centuries. Recently, however, facing economic challenges and government-led attacks on Israel, many Turkish Jews are considering emigration, their future uncertain.