Once upon a time Jews used to live in Galata
Born in Balat, Nino Mizrahi had moved to Galata at a very young age. We talked with Nino Mizrahi about the Jewish life, business and family life and traditions in the olden Galata.
Why did you move from Balat to Galata?
The most important reason why we moved to Bankalar Avenue in 1954 was that the Jewish population in Balat was starting to move. Another reason was that my father had moved his store from Tahtakale to Karakoy. Galata was nearer to his work place. At those years, people selling electrical equipment slowly started to move to Bankalar Avenue. Our store was next to the Italian Synagogue (Kal de Los Frankos). At the time, electrical equipment selling stores were not very common in that region. My childhood, my youth, my career, all those bittersweet memories… They were all lived there until 2010. That’s when I retired.
At that time, where were the homes and work places of Jews in Galata?
In the year we moved to Galata, this district was full of residences and stores. In general, the Jewish population was high. They mainly lived on Simsir Street, Bankalar Avenue (mostly), Laleli Cesme Street, Sair Ziya Pasa Hill (aka Jewish Hill), Yanikkapi Street, Buyuk Hendek Street, Kucuk Hendek Street, Mektep Street, Emekyemez Altinci Street and Tozkoparan Street.
What triggered them to start moving from Galata to other districts?
As the electricity equipment businesses started to move here, families and small business owners started to leave Galata. The rents got higher and the value of estates increased. People looking to make profit sold their houses and their shops and started moving their homes and workplaces to districts such as Taksim, Nisantasi, Kurtulus, Gayrettepe, Sisli, Siracevizler and Caddebostan. Most of the moving took place in 1960’s. Meanwhile, many families due to economic reasons and family affairs immigrated to foreign countries.
Do you recall any of the Jewish business owners from Galata?
When we moved to Galata in 1954, most of the small business owners were Jewish citizens. On Sair Ziya Pasa Street, there were four major Jewish butchers: Romi, Soef, Todros and Kovos. We used to shop from Monsieur Moiz and Monsieur Mordo’s grocery stores. I remember Akel Pharmacy, Belifante Patisserie, grilled meatball sandwich seller Monsieur Moiz in front of Jewish Primary School, Monsieur Iba (hahamiko), Avram Brothers’ fish monger store, poulter Yenifiliz on Simsir Street. On Buyuk Hendek Street the late Monsieur Nesim Licis owned a butcher store. Hair dresser Monsieur Cibili, breakfast pastry seller Monsieur Aruh, Yomtov, Aser Levi winery... These are the ones I can remember. I also recall some business owners at Bankalar Avenue. At the time Monsieur Andon used to own the Modern Patiesserie. At Mektep Street there was Lo Bueno Patisserie. These were very popular places at the time.
In time, the district naturally went through a transformation. How was it?
Galata district preserved its unique structure for many years. Then suddenly one day, the transformation started. In time, everything started to fade away. The workplaces were the main reason for this transformation. Of course, another factor was immigration. Unfortunately, the end of an era was inevitable. In the recent years, there was a second wave of transformation taking over this district. Now all those workplaces are replaced by cafes, hotels, night clubs and patisseries.
Can you give us information about the religious rituals from your childhood and youth?
This district has an important part in Jewish life. I would like to also talk about Kuledibi where I’ve spent most of my childhood and youth. The most memorable days I still recall were the Passover Seders. On those days, the neighborhood looked amazing. There used to be stands and counters open at Buyuk Hendek Street where people could buy white dessert (sarope blanko), a hard and thick matzah called semura, orange jam and other traditional Passover food. It was hard to buy meat from the butchers. There would be long lines in front of the butcher shops. At the Seder night, you could see florists lined up along the streets. Synagogues were full of crowds. It was like a carnival in the whole neighborhood. Since our community was very sensitive, the religious holidays were celebrated to the full extent. The district housed Neve Salom Synagogue, Apolon Synagogue (Mahazike Tora), Ashkenazi Synagogue, Italian Synagogue and another synagogue on the upper side of Bankalar Avenue where Jews from Edirne used to go to. In Karakoy, there was Zulfaris Synagogue. The wedding ceremonies were held in Neve Salom and Zulfaris Synagogues. There were different congregations for each synagogue. If you had not reserved a seat in a synagogue at Rosh-Hashana or Yom Kippur, you would be left standing throughout the whole prayer. When people left the synagogues after the prayers, the view would be amazing. The streets would be filled with crowds of people. Since everyone lived nearby, they would wish each other a happy holiday and then go home.
As for daily life, how did you spend your weekends?
I must mention Mahazike Tora. Boys, girls, we used to go there together. On Saturdays, we would go there in the morning and leave in the evening. We would study Torah and we would have fun activities. There were only a few kids who were not going to Mahazike Tora. The great efforts of late Rabbi Nesim Behar should not be forgotten. For young people there was a community youth center called Amikal. On Sundays, they used to have parties there. Also, on weekends, meeting at Tunel and going to a movie in Beyoglu was very popular. Our parents used to get together with friends and other family members at each other’s homes. After Shabat, on Saturday nights, you should see the line in front of Yomtov’s delicatessen. There were not many places to go for fun those days. Therefore, people preferred gatherings at home. Friends who were older than us and our fathers used to go to Sari Madam coffeehouse in Sishane. They used to play cards and backgammon there. Our mothers would also play cards with their friends on certain days of the week. They would chat and play cards. Also, our mothers prepared dowries for their daughters. On Bankalar Avenue, there was a stylist named Monsieur Samporta. The mothers would bring the table cloths, bed spreads, sheets and pillows to Monsieur Samporta for embroidery. There was always a line in the shop, but they would patiently wait there for their turn. The younger ones also went to community centers like Or Ahayim and Orfelina. They collected donations for the community. The money collected would be put in piggy banks that were very popular those years.
What schools would the children and the teenagers attend?
The children would mostly go to Birinci Karma, Ikinci Karma and Jewish High School. Some families would send their children to French or English High Schools. Since there were no school busses or shuttles then, they would mostly prefer schools in the vicinity. If the school was not in the vicinity, we used to go to school by ourselves.
Do you miss the neighborhood, and do you miss those days?
It’s impossible not to remember those days. When people started to move from the neighborhood, family ties, friendship and neighbor relations started to fade away, too. All those beautiful things we used to live during the holidays vanished. We were close-knit at those times since we all lived near each other. When the people started living in different districts, neighborhoods, unfortunately this intimacy disappeared. Even cousins became estranged. The concept of relatives almost lost its meaning. Technology today is one of the reasons for this.
I consider myself lucky for living those beautiful days.