A synagogue in the southeastern city of Gaziantep reopened after 40 years for a Hanukkah celebration with 200 members of the congregation from Europe, Israel and the United States.
“Our exile from this synagogue lasted 40 years. Why did this congregation, having lived here for 2,300 years, leave near the end of the 70s? Because it was left no choice but to leave,” said İshak İbrahimzadeh, Director of the Turkish Jewish Community.
İbrahimzadeh said that even though members of the congregation had dispersed to different parts of the world, they could “never tear themselves away from Gaziantep,” and that they “didn’t want to anyways.”
“No matter who tries to inject hateful discourse here, no matter what anyone says, we are here. Those who consider us a minority: We may be small in population but we are all Turkey,” said İbrahimzadeh.
The house of worship had to stop active operations in 1979 due to the congregation shrinking. It was used as a Cultural Center for Gaziantep University until it reopened with the Presidency’s contributions.
Gaziantep’s Jewish congregation was formed as a result of migration from Aleppo, and remained, during the Ottoman rule, under the jurisdiction of the Aleppo Rabbinate.
The Jewish population in Gaziantep in the 1880s is cited to be 857 by traveler Vital Cuinet. Records show the population drop to 327 in 1945 and to 152 in 1965. Following he waves of migration in the 70s, the town’s Jewish population practically vanished in the 80s.