Yom Kippur in Istanbul

neve shalom synagogue istanbul
Image via Wikipedia

Last night, we went to temple Neve Shalom on the European side of Istanbul so our Israeli friends could check out the Yom Kippur evening services. As much as I hate being among a group of people who believe in the absurd, it’s a historic and hidden building, Istanbul’s oldest and supposedly nicest synagogue. We get there, and the whole street was lined with nightclub-bouncers, burly young men, some with their heads shaven, obviously spent time at the gym, well-dressed with earpieces connected to walkie talkies, and Jewish! I didn’t know they came in that size.

We’re all dressed up, we get out of the cab, walk up to the metal detector, show our American and Israeli passports, and one of the guards, not liking the name “Elif” on my wife’s passport, looks at her and grills her on Yom Kippur. She says she’s married with an American Jew and points to me.

He gives us a Sophie’s Choice: I can go in, with the Israelis, but Elif has to wait outside. And, by the way, she shouldn’t stand by the front doors but down the street, and the rest of us have to stay inside for over an hour until services end.

We’re incensed; the Israelis complain mightily; the nightclub bouncer says (while waving a few shlomos to go inside) we were bombed once 20 years ago; and the Israelis say, so what, our temple in Israel gets bombed every month or two. I think of some line my dad once told me about a Jew being welcome in a temple anywhere in the world, and I remember it again a couple hours later at the Tapas bar down the street, as we happily play backgammon and toast Dionysus over pitchers of homemade sangria.


Postscript (from Wikipedia):

On November 15, 2003, two truck bombs slammed into the Beth Israel and Neve Shalom synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey and exploded. The explosions devastated the synagogues and killed twenty seven people, most of them Turkish Muslims, and injured more than 300 others. The two suicide bombers also died. A Turkish militant group (IBDA-C) claimed responsibility for the blasts, but Turkish Government Officials dismissed the validity of this claim by pointing out that the minor group did not have enough resources to carry out such an intricately planned and expensive attack

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