ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

Nev Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul's Galata district
After facing difficult times last winter due to public reactions to the Israeli assault in Gaza, Turkey’s Jewish community is looking forward to participating in a series of activities for the European Day of Jewish Culture.
The events for that day, Sept. 6, will take place in Istanbul’s Galata district and aim to help the public at large discover the cultural and historical heritage of Judaism.
“This day carries a special importance for us. The key point is to make our culture known. We are a community of 23,000 in a country of 70 million. That’s why we give a lot of importance to such events,” said Deniz Baler Saporta, a spokeswoman for Turkey’s Jewish community.
The Jewish community is not appropriately known in Turkey, said Saporta, recalling the results of a survey conducted by Bahçeşehir University. In that poll, 64 percent of those surveyed said they would not want a Jewish neighbor. “This finding is very saddening for us. We believe these opinions can change if we can make ourselves better known,” she said at a press conference held last week.
Begun as a local initiative in the Alsace region of France, Culture Day went international in 1999. This year its theme is Jewish Festivals and Traditions and its roster is likely to include as many as 800 separate, simultaneous events in 28 countries.
The events in Istanbul will include exhibitions, concerts and panels. But the highlight will certainly be the symbolic circumcision ceremony, along with the iftar, or Ramadan dinner, that will take place at Beyoğlu’s Municipality Building. As the European Day of Jewish Culture has coincided with Ramadan this year, the iftar will be held as a symbol of unity between cultures. Everyone who wants to join is invited to do so.
During Israel’s assault on Gaza last winter, the public anger vented at Turkey’s Jewish community at times amounted to anti-Semitism. Previously, in 2006, the community decided to cancel the events scheduled for that year due to Israel’s war with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which took place approximately a month before the culture day.
This year, Saporta said the community does not have a specific security concern for the day of the events. “Security measures are always taken. We have even been the target of bombs,” she said. In 2003, a pair of truck bombs exploded outside two synagogues, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 300. In Sept. 6 1986, terrorists of foreign origin penetrated the Neve Shalom Synagogue threw bombs and opened machine gun fire on the worshippers, killing 21. Members of the community commemorates the victims of this incident that coincides this year with European Day of Jewish Culture.
Neve Shalom in Galata, will be the one of the main venues for the Sept. 6 events.
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Culture day events
The work of some of the contestants in a Chanukkiah design contest will be exhibited at the Neve Shalom synagogue. A Chanukkiah is a Menorah with nine branches that is used at the Hanukkah holiday. A jury consisting of six artists evaluated the work of 215 participants from all age groups.
A panel on the culture of living together will also take place at the synagogue with the participation of academics Binnaz Toprak and Edhem Eldem, writer Mario Levi and journalist Kadri Gürsel.
The synagogue will also host a chamber-music concert titled “Reflections from Jewish Themes,” which will be performed by pianist Jerfi Aji, violinists Cihat Aşkın and Aida Baydağ, clarinetist Ayşegül Kirmanoğlu, violist Tuba Özkan and cellist Yelda Özgen Öztürk.
Another performance on the culture day will feature the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki Choir, which is directed by Kostis Papazoglou and includes 14 sopranos, 7 altos, 4 tenors and 5 basses. The concert will take place in the Ashkenazi Synagogue.