These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Turkey 2016: Every Rise has its Fall

Posted on January 14, 2016 by Yosef Lopez

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Today we spent much time remembering what was. We made our way to Gallipoli which is on the Gelibolu Peninsula. Our first stop was a synagogue in ruin. A rotting wooden frame was revealed as the remaining skeleton of the kahal, scattered bricks, and over grown weeds and grass surrounded the ruins, and in what must have been the sanctuary, a dead winter tree jutted up though the floor and in to the building.

I didn’t know how to respond. I had never been to this kahal, nor was I ever a part of its minyan. The building fell in to disuse years ago, before I was born. This was my first time ever seeing it and I felt something tug at my heart all the same. Seeing that house of prayer sitting without honour made me feel somewhat crestfallen. We recited a psalm Psalm 121:

אשא עיני אל־ההרים, מאין יבו עזרי? עזרי מים ה׳ עשה שמים וארץ. לא ינום ולא ישן שומר ישראל.

I lift my eyes to the mountains, from where does my help come? It comes from The Lord, the creator of heaven and earth… The guardian for Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers. 

We then made our way to an old and abandoned Jewish cemetery. Two cemeteries actually. Here also the grass was overgrown, graves and tombstones falling apart. We recited the berakha that extols The Almighty, that in the future, He will resurrect the dead. There I looked at the tomb stones, seeing the past in front of me.

Aki repoza alma de… Here rests the soul of…

I began to think that the synagogue and the cemetery were all too real representations of the Judaeo-Spanish community that once was. The faith, the community, the civilisation, now a skeleton of what it was. Graves moved, and uncared for, the synagogue in ruins. Overgrown and surrounded by weeds and shrubbery. So much has happened to Turkish Jewry, but despite the setbacks, the community here is thriving. The prayers still echo in the souls of the men and women today, and the joie de vivre of everyday Jewish life rings in the heart of the community. I can’t help but feel that the culture of Judaeo-Spanish isn’t dead, but is dimpling changing.

The tree that was growing in the ruin synagogue in Gelibolu was a tree waiting to be reborn. Winter has come and all of its leaves have fallen. But it is only waiting to be reborn. Like the תחיית המתים, Tehiyat Ametim, the resurrection of the dead, it isn’t gone forever. It’s waiting to come back. It hasn’t fallen, but is only getting ready to leap forward.