While Turkey has been welcoming to Jews for much of their 2,000-year history there – even serving as a refuge for thousands of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust – in recent years that has dramatically changed. Since the Islamic government, headed by President Erdogan, came to power, the country’s traditional hospitality towards Jews has turned to hostility.
Today, Hitler’s book Mein Kempf and books like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was a guide to modern anti-Semitism in the early 20thcentury, are bestsellers in Turkey. The media constantly spews propaganda warning Turks not to hire Jews, not to do business with them, and never to buy products made or sold by Jews. Even being pulled over for a traffic ticket with the word “Jew” on your ID card often leads to extortion and arrest.
Because of this increased danger, The Fellowship has been helping members of Turkey’s Jewish community make aliyah (immigrate to Israel). Recently, Ami Farkas, one of our staff members in Israel, interviewed some of the new olim (immigrants) we’d brought to a new life in the Holy Land.
Tears of Joy
When I first met Mordechai, he pulled out his Turkish identification card, pointed to where it said “Jew” in Turkish, made a face, shook his head, and said, “No good!” Mordechai had just arrived in Israel on a Fellowship Freedom Flight from Turkey. I met with him and several other new olim, and they all spoke of the great challenge of living in Turkey as a Jew today.
Sitting with their son Avraham, who made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) four years ago, Mordechai, 61, and his wife Dola, 58, had tears in their eyes as they showed me their newly issued Israeli ID cards. “It was our dream to come to Israel, and we are so thankful for The Fellowship, whose help has made our aspirations a reality,” they exclaimed.
Their son Avraham had moved to Israel to avoid being drafted into the Turkish Army. “Army service is mandatory in Turkey, but I could not fathom the idea of serving an army that despises the Jewish state,” Avraham said. “So I told my parents that if I am going to serve in any army, it will be the Israeli one.”
Prior to the rise of the Islamic Party, Mordechai and Dola lived a quiet, peaceful life in Turkey. Mordechai was once a professional cantor and led services in some of Turkey’s largest synagogues. But these days, “even walking into a synagogue, which has to be protected with private security detail, is risky business,” he explained. The situation became unbearable for Jews, and so Mordechai and Dola decided that the time had come to join their son in Israel.
Making Dreams a Reality
Avraham got in touch with The Fellowship in order to help his parents make the journey from Istanbul to Tel Aviv. Money was a major concern. “Jews lost all their money in the last decade,” Dola explained. “Even wealthy Jews became poor as no one wanted to do business with them or hire them anymore. So they began to sell off their homes, furniture, and any other items worth anything just to have some money to buy food and clothes.”
The Fellowship gave Mordechai and Dola money for their airfare to Israel as well as a grant of about $1,500 to get started. And they are currently studying Hebrew in classes provided by The Fellowship, one of several programs to help the olim transition well.
“We would never have made it to the Holy Land if not for The Fellowship,” Mordechai said. “And now that we are here, reunited with our son, living on our ancestral soil, we feel incredibly blessed and are extremely thankful to The Fellowship for making this dream a reality.”