Adio Kerida (Goodbye my Beloved), a sad song about the expulsion of Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal, two countries they called home, echoed cheerfully through the walls of Edirne Great Synagogue during its re-opening ceremony.
When this meaningful song was sung altogether once again at the end of the ceremony, some had tears in their eyes and some had their hands on their hearts. However, this five hundred years old requiem that symbolizes the yearning of Sephardic Jews had a whole different meaning, this time. All the Jews of this land and especially the Thrace Jews who were expelled from their homes in 1934, sang this song as “one”, with pure joy. And this time the tears that ran down their eyes were tears of joy instead of tears of sadness.
March 26, 2015 is a historical day for Edirne and the Turkish Jews. For the first time in my life I was attending an opening ceremony of a synagogue. And I was sure it was a first for most of us as well. Almost a thousand people came to the big opening from Istanbul. The plans have been made weeks ago. The busses were organized. The lunch boxes to be given to guests were prepared in accordance with Kashrut laws. A scarf and a kippah were given to each guest as a gift, a memorabilia for this day.
The synagogue opened with the Morning Prayer. Teffilins were put on, prayers were said. The Torah was delivered to a young boy to be handed down to next generations. After the morning prayer, the guests visited Selimiye Mosque and then went to the Jewish Cemetery. Even though most of the tombs were extorted or buried under the apartment buildings, what was left from the cemetery was filled with an excited crowd.
I’m struggling to find the right words to describe the excitement of the grandchildren of Edirne Jews and especially those who came from abroad solely for this purpose, the excitement and peace it made us all feel to try and find their ancestors’ graves with them, to pray for all the souls we lost, at that cemetery, thousand people at the same time… Another first in my lifetime.
Even if it was for only a short period of time, Edirne once again went back to its multicultural, polyphonic days. The energy that spread from here surrounded the whole city. The new residents of the old Jewish neighborhood watched everything that was going on with curiosity. The streets we passed through were full of people. I wish the residents of Edirne had the chance to attend the ceremony and share our joy. I cannot think a better way to coexist once again is this glorious city.
Many guests from abroad came for the opening ceremony of Edirne Great Synagogue. Member of the World Jewish Congress Maram Stern, Romanian Jews minority member of the parliament and Leader of Jewish Community Aurel Vainer along with clergymen, leaders of Jewish communities and members of Jewish foundations from Greece, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Israel, Netherlands, Romania, Georgia, Russia, Italy and Poland were in Edirne to attend this historical opening ceremony. After the ceremony, unable to hide their excitement for being in Edirne on such a meaningful day, they all shared their contentment and they presented the gifts they brought from their countries for the synagogue. The president of Azerbaijan Jewish community expressed his feelings by saying, “This is not a big day just for you, it is a memorable day for all the Jews.”
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, Edirne Mayor Recep Gürkan, Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew, Director of General Directorate for Foundations Adnan Ertem, Representative for Minority Foundations at General Directorate for Foundations Toros Alcan, Israel’s Consul General in Istanbul Shai Cohen, Deputy Principal Officer of the American Consulate in Istanbul Deborah Menutti, Head of the Turkish Delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Former Ambassador Ertan Tezgör, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Security and Intelligence Bureau Secretary Tunç Üğdül and Namık Tan who served as Turkey’s Ambassador in Washington and Tel Aviv were among the protocol that attended the ceremony. Edirne Governor who is known by his inappropriate remarks regarding the synagogue was also present at the ceremony.
During the ceremony the synagogue and its yard swarmed with guests. We listened to the Quincentennial Foundation’s Vice President Naim Güleryüz’s speech where he gave detailed information about the history of Edirne. When it was announced that the Holy Torah was entering the Synagogue, everybody stood up and waited impatiently to see its entrance. Meanwhile, the song Evenu Salom Aleem echoing in the synagogue turned this impatient waiting into excitement. Our Holy Book entered the synagogue under the Chuppah and was greeted with cheers and applause. The sound of Shofar from all over the synagogue accompanied the entrance.
President of the Turkish Jewish Community Ishak Ibrahimzadeh who later took the stand, started his emotional speech by greeting all the former residents of Edirne. He did not forget to wave at Cuneyt, who used to turn off the synagogue’s lights on Shabbat in return for candies, when he was a young boy.
“Why, we who ‘share a common faith’ were discriminated and marginalized?” asked Ibrahimzadeh and added, “Why do we need to restore tolerance?” referring to the headlines in the newspapers covering the event. He said that in order to stand against conspiracy theories and speeches that imply Judaism as the enemy of the state, the Jews feel bound to explain that they are loyal and constructive citizens of this country at every occasion. He added that the re-opening of Edirne Great Synagogue is the best response our government gives to these kinds of expressions and discrimination.
Ibrahimzadeh ended his speech that was interrupted many times by applauses by thanking Director of General Directorate for Foundations Adnan Ertem, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who initiated all this change when he said, “Laws shall be regulated to honor the rights and those who hold those rights.”
Director of General Directorate for Foundations Adnan Ertem who later took the stand, emphasized that they are not only undertaking the restoration and renovation of Muslim Foundations, but also Foundations that belong to Jewish and Christian Communities, as well. After Ertem’s speech, Bülent Arınç, Deputy Prime Minister was greeted with standing ovation when he approached the stand to give his speech. In his speech Arınç stated that Turks and Jews lived on this land like brothers, adding it is inappropriate to blame Turkish Jews for Israel’s politics. He also said that the relationship between the Turks and the Jews started long before Israel was founded and Edirne is a symbol of common faith. “A Jew, a Christian or any other religious group member has as much right as any Muslims living on this land.” He also called the Jews who immigrated to other countries back to Turkey.
Between the speeches, Maftarim Choir performed Edirne style Synagogue Hymns in Segah and Usak modes. The guests applauded the performance cheerfully. The songs were a great example of the common life Turks and Jews led together for centuries, demonstrating how these two cultures influenced each other. The Hebrew and Ladino songs Ulus Private Jewish School Students Choir sang moved the guests deeply and everyone in the synagogue sang along. It was an unforgettable performance.
After the ceremony, the celebrations continued with the young guests doing folk dance and other guests attending the cocktail. At the former rabbi’s chamber, guests had the opportunity to visit an exhibition displaying art pieces depicting Jewish life in Edirne. Nisso Kanetti, Group President of the Union of Edirne Jews in Israel, brought the artwork from Israel for this special occasion.
Among the guests of this emotional and exciting ceremony were Rifat Mitrani, the last Jew who lives in Edirne, David İlle, the oldest Jew of Edirne and Hayim Kan who had the last bar-mitzvah ceremony in 1982 in this synagogue. After the evening prayer, guests left Edirne with tears in their eyes, hope and gratitude in their hearts.
It was a historical day for us. We, who always light a candle with sorrow and grief for the souls of those we lost on November 15, 2013 and 1986 terror attacks, in Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom HaShoah, for the first time had the chance to experience such joy and happiness.
For the first time in a long time our synagogue echoed with songs and applauses.
And this time, we sang Adio Kerida with joy and happiness. With the enthusiasm of meeting the beloved we yearned for so long...
Karel Valansi, Şalom Turkey, April 1st, 2015