Pardes Turkey 2015: Shared History
Posted on March 30, 2015 by Ariela Haim
Today was our 5th day in Istanbul with the warm and welcoming Turkish Jewish community. For the majority of us, it was our first Shabbat in Istanbul and a rather interesting experience considering that the majority of us were also not familiar with Sephardi prayer services and keeping Shabbat without an eruv. But despite these challenges, we had already proven our accomplishments as a team by successfully dodging crazy Turkish drivers and sticking together in the crowded subways.
Our Shabbat was filled with prayer, songs, lots of delicious food, and a Turkish drink called Raki (somewhat similar to the Israeli alcoholic drink Arak). We mingled and bonded with the community and they always finished the conversations with how grateful they were that the Pardes students came to visit. As a team we were extremely touched by their hospitality and kindness.
However, I must admit that I had a unique experience. During our last meal (seudat shlishit) before the end of Shabbat, Rabbi Levi Cooper called on me to give a devar Torah (word of Torah). While introducing me, he mentioned that I am the great great granddaughter of Joesph Niego (ז”ל), who was a prominent figure in the Turkish Jewish community. I spoke of how the Hebrews preserved their identity in Egypt and why it is still important today. I expressed how fascinated I was with the richness of the culture and traditions.
When I finished speaking several people approached me and reiterated how important Niego was for the community and that I am always welcomed. This experience and wonderful community has given me the priceless opportunity to reconnect with my roots. It would not have been possible without the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies.