“Our goal is to build bridges”

A huge delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the umbrella foreign policy body for U.S. Jewish groups, visited Turkey on Monday.

“Our goal is to build bridges”

The Delegation got together with Turkish Jewish Community on Monday and on Tuesday, held official meetings with President Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. 

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations chose Turkey as the destination for its annual international visit. A group of 35 delegates, some travelling with their spouses, arrived at Istanbul, last Sunday. The group visited Private Ulus Jewish School where they took a brief tour and talked to a group of high school students. Besiktas Mayor Murat Hazinedar and his wife were also present during the visit. The group also had the chance to talk to Mr. Hazinedar and exchange ideas. 

Later, the group went to Balat. Their first stop was at Istipol Synagogue, a historic synagogue which has recently re-opened its doors for worship. The exterior wall surrounding the synagogue was tagged with anti-Semitic graffiti shortly after it was re-opened. The visitors asked the community representatives about the synagogue’s current status and the budget required for renovation. They then moved on to Ahrida Synagogue. 

The American delegation arrived at Neve Salom in the evening and got together with a large group from Turkish Jewish Community. They attended Arvit prayer (Maariv- Evening Prayer) with Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva and after that took a tour of the Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews which has recently re-opened its doors in its new home, Neve Salom complex.

Dinner catered by La Casa Catering was served at Neve Salom Cultural Center. Aside from representatives and members of the Turkish Jewish Community, the guests were accompanied by Former Ambassador and IHRA’s (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) Former President of Turkish Delegation Ertan Tezgor, Beyoglu Mayor Ahmet Misbah Demircan and Journalist – Writer Mustafa Akyol.

The evening kicked off with Leader of Turkish Jewish Community, Ishak Ibrahimzadeh’s speech. Following Ibrahimzadeh, the guest speaker of the evening, journalist Mustafa Akyol gave a speech. Akyol briefly reviewed Turkey’s political situation. 

After Mustafa Akyol, Former Ambassador Ertan Tezgor who for many years had been the President of Turkish Delegation at IHRA gave a speech. Tezgor enlightened the audience about all the events held in Turkey regarding Holocaust education. He specifically mentioned the recent events of last year that pleased Turkish Jews including the re-opening of renovated Edirne Synagogue, the Holocaust Memorial Ceremony held in Ankara and the public Hanukkah celebration in Istanbul, Ortakoy Square. He also stated that there should be significant revisions in the books used at schools. 

Last but not the least, Malcolm Hoenline and Steven Greenberg representing the US delegation, took the floor. Stating that as a group, they organize an international visit once a year where usually Israel is the destination, they are happy to be in Turkey, this year. Greenberg describing the goal of their visit as “building bridges” stated that they plan to achieve their goal through meetings with Turkish Jewish Community in Istanbul and through official meetings with the state officials in Ankara. 

The evening ended with live Sephardic music performed by Karen Gerson Sarhon and Izzet Bana.

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