Posted on March 30, 2015 by Myra Meskin
After spending a few days getting to know the Jewish community here in Istanbul, we went today to the Jewish old age home, to hear their stories and to sing with them. Although we met one resident who spoke wonderful English and who told us about her studies in America and her time as a high school teacher in Istanbul, we communicated with most of the residents simply by looking into each other’s eyes, a touch of the hand, and a shared Jewish melody. As we traveled singing from one floor to the next, residents heard the guitar and drums and wandered out of their rooms to see what was happening. Some took to the music right away, including one man who quickly scrambled back into his room and came out with a drum of his own to join in on the fun!
As we came onto the second floor I sat down to sing next to a woman and offered her my hand, which she took readily. As I sang the words of “Heveinu Shalom Alechem,” she looked at me with wonder, and soon her eyes filled with tears, as did mine. She spoke to me in Turkish, and Gabi, our young Turkish friend from the Jewish community, described how she was feeling emotional seeing all of us singing in Hebrew.
Although we couldn’t communicate directly, we were able to share something very special in our love of Jewish life and community. She squeezed my hand, kissed my cheek, and then she joined in the song full force as we continued to look into each other’s eyes, wet with tears.
Our final stop was on the floor of residents who have no family to visit them, many of whom suffer from dementia, one of whom was originally startled by the noise of the music. Some of us knelt down to greet her, and softly we sang a slow and familiar “Oseh Shalom.” On her face and the faces of others, it was as if you could see the words returning to them, and eventually she was the one pounding away on the drum to “Hava Nagillah” as the others began a circle of dancing. One of the nurses shared that she had never seen them so happy or smile so much. As we eventually prepared to leave, they would come up to each one of us to shake our hands and kiss our cheeks, excited to have someone to wish them a “shabbat shalom.”
There have certainly been times on this trip where we have challenged and been challenged by the differences in the Jewish traditions of our two communities. Today though, everything I saw was a reflection of the beauty and the gift of being a part of the Jewish people.