Posted on March 31, 2015 by Bonnie Houghton
Pardes in Turkey, March 29th Sunday – With a warm gray sky contrasting the green rolling hills of Istanbul, this morning we headed bleary-eyed and smiling into our final day of this amazing experience. Having said or written tearful goodbyes to our home stay hosts, we returned to our home synagogue of Etz Ahayim to share one last shacharit. The food here has been such a part of our connection, and enjoying a final beautiful and friendly breakfast with our beloved Murat and key community leaders was apropos. We have been treated like royalty, fed and cared for and shuttled from one space to another in caravans of cars, cabs and even buses! The love, friendship and strength of this community is all encompassing and palpable. The air energized, the hearts open, and the conversations dance meaningfully between joy of connection, hope for the future, fear of attrition and fierce determination of spirit. Lingering we hesitated to say good-bye only lehitraot.
Partings are always bittersweet. Transitioning out of the Jewish community and back in time, we were off to the historic sites of the Golden Horn. Accompanied by our “say it like it is” local guide we wandered like tourists throughout the darkened Egyptian market (the electricity went out!), craned our necks upward in the expansive Blue Mosque, marveled at the engineering and construction of the immense water cistern under the city, and reconnected as a team over fresh fruit and bread purchased from the street vendors. After connecting over food and of course, Turkish coffee; the Hagia Sofia Museum was our last tourist pass through before heading to our shuttle and the seaport for a car ferry ride across the Bosphorus. The boat rides have been a highlight for me, a calming bit of sea breeze and nature to settle the heart and calm the buzzing soul.As the ferry docked, our mini-bus zoomed toward the airport, an exhausted crew dozed off, and I reflected on the journey. Scenic images of our travels flashed in my mind, as through the van windows, the modern Istanbul city scenery whizzed by. My thoughts and heart dwelled on the small surviving community in this large city, amongst the even larger landscape of Turkey itself. Looking down at the millions of city lights from the airplane, I admired the ultimate courage of a people striving to maintain a Jewish tradition and connection, while yearning deeply for growth and relevance for themselves and their children in a modern and very populated secular world.
And what began 6 days ago with an early morning shuttle ride to Tel Aviv, ended with a late night/early morning shuttle ride to Jerusalem, still with friends and colleagues side-by-side. Thank You – to everyone in Istanbul, in our group and especially Levi Cooper and Pardes for facilitating and supporting this meaningful and important work.