Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Man from U.R.F.A.

We had a dinner guest over for our Friday night Sabbath meal. Funny that our guests are usually not Jewish because the friends we have, who are Orthodox, won't drive to our home for dinner on the Sabbath and we don't have too many friends in our immediate neighborhood, due to our very busy lifestyles. And there are those friends that aren't Orthodox and live in Jerusalem that don't drive and there's no bus service on the Sabbath.

This Turkish guy was a guest at our last interfaith meeting, and is studying conflict resolution at the Hebrew U for a few months, and said to me - before he leaves back for Turkey, he would love to experience a Shabbat meal. I immediately invited him, because not only does everything feel more festive when there are guests around, but also because my crazy family misbehaves alot less when there's company. Doesn't everyone's family?

Before he arrived, my kids were like "Why are you inviting Arabs again?". Besides telling them they'd never get a chance to interact with Arabs if I didn't keep on inviting them to our home, I tried to explain this particular man isn't an Arab because Turkish people don't consider themselves Arabs. They're - well - Turkish.

"So why is his name Ibrahim?"

"Because he is a Moslem."

Then I tried to explain to my not-so-very-worldly teens that not all Moslems are Arabs, terrorists, etc. It's something that I have to keep on drilling into them. Anyway, I knew they would like him.

Even though Ibrahim now lives in Istanbul, he was born in Urfa , a town near the Syrian border with an amazing history. Biblical Abraham was said to have been born there, and there is a mosque built over his birthplace, plus a cave where he was thrown into the fire when he was a child, and survived because of his faith in God. Most of you know the story. I was totally fascinated by this. He told me many Israelis of Turkish/Kurdish background quietly pass into Syria from Urfa to visit their ancestral home (even though Syria is officially closed to Israelis).

Synagogue built by Jews from Urfa, Turkey - Jerusalem

Interior of the Urfa Synagogue, Jerusalem

Urfa was home to many Jews pre-1948, and there is even a synagogue in Jerusalem which was built around the turn of the century - see photos above - by Urfa's expats. Ibrahim ventured into that synagogue last Friday night to check it out and he was thrilled to find some people from Urfa there. He remarked that they looked Turkish and resembled many of his relatives. Out of the 40 people that pray in that particular synagogue, only 9 are left from the Urfa community. The rest moved on to different areas of the city/country. I could see the joy in his face as he described meeting his Jewish countrymen - who were different from the affluent Jews he now encounters in Istanbul. Urfa's people were more salt-of-the-earth small merchant types.

Looks like I have to add yet another place to visit on my wish list.


Anonymous said...

I am a Turkish and was born in Urfa,and currently live in New York.
I wanna say that There are many Jewish peopel living in Urfa but Unfortunately because of historical and political assumptions in the past, they couldn't have opportunity of free act to live in public areas, then Most of them left Urfa.City of Urfa was so important place for muslim people as the same as for Jews. And Muslim population were higher than jews so They were assimilated under Local Urfa Culture not as a religion but culturally. After established Republic of Turkish 1920s, Regional polices were changed and in time, provide a chance for foreigners to have land,home,places like as in Urfa,then many jews from other countries started to come and buy lands etc in Urfa.People in Urfa were used to live with them. As Urfa being a Touristic place, has magneficient historical and religioustic places that must be seen. I invite you in Urfa even I am not there:)))

Hope you see these places.

Halil Ibrahim

acolevi said...

I follow my past. The past of my fathers. My mother became a muslim but my grand mom told me heyy son do not forget that you are a jew and you are in Torah. She said in kurdish that we are the people of Moshe. But now I cant find my fathers marks. They hate from us. acolevi at hot.

urfali jew said...

why do you say jews in urfa pre 1948??? why u mark this date? the jews came to israel from urfa in the years 1880-1915 so dont mark 1948 becouse of ur political views

jerusalemgypsy said...

Hey, Jew from Urfa. 1880-1915 is "pre-1948". And I don't have political beliefs...it's an historical date that's all.