A Lover of Kuzguncuk: Ibrahim Bardavit
For centuries, Kuzguncuk has been the dwelling place for the believers of three main religions.
Translated by Sedat Behar
For centuries, Kuzguncuk has been the dwelling place for the believers of three main religions, where synagogues, churches and mosques filled the town with hazan (leader of Jewish prayer services) and çan (church bell), ezan (call to prayer). Ibrahim Bardavit, who spent his childhood and youth in this ‘Pearl Necklace of Istanbul’, the capitol of peace and the ‘Bella Vista’ of days past, tells us his memories and longing for those days.
Please tell us about yourself…
I was born in Kuzguncuk. I attended Kuzguncuk 45th Elementary and St. Benoit High School. I had to abandon school due to the passing of my father, since I had to take over his business and provide for my family. Later, I worked in the textiles industry and retired after a 32-year-tenure.
Could you tell us about childhood in Kuzguncuk?
As everyone who lived there in that period knows, we were like a family. Everyone knew and respected each other. I had a wonderful childhood. There were two elementary schools: The Jewish kids attended 45th Elementary which was in the famous Marko Pasha Palace building. The education was co-ed. School ran all day and we would get home in a few minutes on foot; it was very close to home.
During summer, we played soccer with kids from the village. A few days a week, we would go to the outdoor movies. All neighbors knew each other and frequently went over to visits. Since most transportation was via the ferry, everyone knew the schedules and women would go to the Iskele (ferry station) at the evening to greet their spouses.
When I was young, there were about 800 families in Kuzguncuk. Mostly due to economic reasons, they had to move to Israel after 1948. Despite its hardships, Aliyah was a gateway to hope.
How about your teenage-years?
We would tour Icadiye Avenue and show off. The youth would go on at least two excursions: To Sile, Kumburgaz or Celaliye. Occasionally, we would be joined by our friends from Sisli and Kadikoy. These trips were very entertaining. Kumburgaz was not littered with concrete buildings back then. We had friends from all religions – there were no problems between the groups.
Was the Jewish Community religious at the time?
We had two synagogues: Lower Synangogue called Bet Yaakov and Upper Synagogue called Bet Nisim or Verane as it was called back then. Mişel Abut was the rabbi of the Lower and Albert Amram of the Upper. Both synagogues would be packed on holidays. Rabbi Abut’s voice was very beautiful and strong. Later, Kalaora and Viktor Afya were the Hazans. Now they both live in Mexico and are hazans there as well.
In summer nights, we would attend religious school in the synagogues. Religious material was taught first by Rafael Franses and later Rabbi Albert Amram. Danon would teach us Hebrew. After reaching a certain age, Nesim Albala would enroll us to the Or-Ahayim and Orfelina youth groups. We worked together in these groups for many years. There were two piggy banks in every household – one for Or-Ahayim and one for Orfelina.
How about weddings and funerals in Kuzguncuk?
Neve Shalom was not built yet; so weddings were celebrated at the Zulfaris Synagogue in Karakoy or Lower Synagogue in Kuzguncuk. There would be festive tables in the backyard and lots of donations would be collected.
Funerals were a little different than other communities. After the funeral prayer, gentlemen called ‘Muçaços’ would be pall-bearers in their special clothing. They would go through streets along with chants of rabbi. People seeing the procession in the street or in their homes would stand up and pay their respects. At the end of the road, Muçaços would take a break, rabbi would chant the ‘Sof Davar’ prayer. Later, procession would continue along a narrow path into the cemetery. The cemetery in Kuzguncuk is ancient, resting place to some stones 600 years old.
Could you tell us about the departure of Kuzguncuk community members? You are still active in the leadership of Kuzguncuk Synagogues, could you tell us about that?
Between 1955-70, many families left Kuzguncuk for Kadikoy or Sisli, mostly to provide better living accommodations and schools. My family, after the passing of my brother, Dr. Josef Bardavit in 1970, did not want to live in Kuzguncuk, so we left.
I have been active in Kuzguncuk Jewish Community for many years and still try to help in any way I can. There are very few Jewish families left in Kuzguncuk; about 14-15 people. Many attendees of the Kuzguncuk Synagogue today are not originally from Kuzguncuk. They like the sincerity and close-knit community aspect of Kuzguncuk and became loyal ‘yahids’.
Do you still reminisce of Kuzguncuk of the past?
Today, in the building we live in, we know no one! In Kuzguncuk of my youth, everyone knew each other and our relationships were pleasant. I long for those friendships. I would like to share an example: In those years, our home was right by the ferry station. In the evening, back from work, my father and our neighbor Davit Jeruzalmi would exit the ferry and continue chatting in front of our door. Ferries would stop by every half hour. As we waited for their conversation to end, few ferries would unload their passengers already and this delay would drive my mother mad. To calm her down, he would say that they were discussing very deep matters. These memories engraved to my memory. I get saddened by the fact that these warm relationships cannot be lived today.