Posted on February 26, 2018 by Sarah Palmer
After a busy day with the students at Ulus, we all headed back to our billets to get ready for Shabbat. We welcomed in Shabbat with Rabbi Nafi at the Ortaköy synagogue. Rabbi Nafi exploded with the most most exciting energy that inspired us and the community to sing and dance for just about the entirety of Shabbat. He really knew how to orchestrate us, asking us to starts songs, lead people in dance, or give a dvar Torah (or three–everyone was really interested in hearing us). Kabbalat Shabbat was a rousing combination of Karlebach and Sefardi tunes. The dinner after davening gave us an opportunity to get to know more members of the congregation. I was really happy to see so much age diversity. There were small children, teenagers, parents, and grandparents.
The food was delicious and catered by La Casa. La Casa is a nonprofit catering company run by a wonderful couple in the community that helps 350 needy Jewish families in Istanbul and provides kosher food for the synagogue and for airlines that fly through Turkey. It was fun to have a different kind of Shabbat cuisine and participate in the many l’chaims with Raki (Turkish Arak).
Shabbat morning we continued the excitement. There were two minyanim at the synagogue, one at 8:15 in the main shul, and the other, dubbed “the sleepy minyan” an hour later. Seeing the different customs in the service was really enjoyable. I was particularly interested in the gestures people used when taking out the Torah as well as waving gestures used to acknowledge those around you before starting the Amida.
Shabbat was really amazing. We spent time with families who were there for hours with us on Friday night and then the whole of Shabbat day. We also had a quick walk outside of the synagogue after Kiddush to check out the neo-baroque Ortaköy mosque on the Bospherous. We heard stories from community members about a public chanukiyah lighting ceremony held right outside the mosque; an event Jews attend with both pride and fear.
Following our intensive lessons at the school, it was wonderful to have some time to really sit down with people in the community and hear about their lives in such a beautiful and complex city.