Once upon a time, there were Jews in Ankara!!
Leyla Aglamaz, who migrated to Israel in 1971, shares her childhood in Ankara, the Jewish life, traditions, religious rituals and interactions with general population.
Translation: Sedat Behar
Could you introduce yourself?
I was born in 1940 in Ankara. My paternal side belongs to Almaleh and Albukrek families. Albukrek Family’s head was a doctor whose father was my grandmother’s sibling. One of my grandmother’s sisters married into Alaton family. My mother is from Abelda family (later renamed to Altinyuva) from Canakkale (Dardanelles). In 1934, due to the loss of both her father and mother in the same year, she arrived in Ankara to live with one of her brothers. My spouse, Yosef Aglamaz’s father had the last name of ‘Araf’ before the Surname Reform. His mother is from Bilman family.
Where did the Jews live in Ankara? Which schools did they attend?
In the years I was born, most of the Ankara Jews lived in the Jewish Village. Jewish school was abolished at the time. For that reason, most of my age group studied in ‘Turkish’ schools. Citizens of Ankara are known for their impeccable command of Turkish. But our elders kept talking in Ladino (Judeo-Espanyol). I attended public elementary school, and then enrolled in TED Ankara College. Later, I began working as a secretary. Five years later, I was working for Etibank and continued until our Aliyah to Israel in 1971. I married Yosef in 1957 and we had three children. My spouse, who was known as ‘Yusuf’ managed a haberdashery store called Guler with his father. I was one of the first women that went to work.
How was your social life in youth?
We did not have a community center when I grew up. The youth always found ways to be entertained. The house we lived till I was 12 had a large courtyard. Kids would ask permission from my father and my uncle to organize parties there, and they were happy to oblige. Concrete floors would be washed all day, tables and chairs would be setup and food prepared. We would watch all the activity from our window. At night, it was a delight to watch the youth have fun, dancing to Foxtrot and Charleston tunes played with the gramophone under the lights of bulbs hung on extended cords. I cannot recall the faces but the music is still in my ears.
Our mothers were usually housewives. Every now and then, some of them would go to their spouses’ shops to help out. There were a few ladies who were tailors. Some would go to houses and tried to earn money on projects. When done with their work, every housewife would pick up something to mend; patching socks, etc. Kids would wear these pajamas and dresses.
We used to picnic in large crowds. There were public spaces like Ataturk Orman Ciftligi (Ataturk Forest Farm), Mamak and Baraj. Ayas Icmeleri, Kizilcahamam and Haymana were some others close to Ankara. Seniors would dip in the hot springs to alleviate their pains while kids were playing. All citizens of Ankara reminisce these wonderful memories.
Our parents would attend music and dance halls where many European artists would perform. Dario Moreno’s first appearance in his career was in the Bomonti Gazinosu. Ankara was known for opera, ballet and theater and our parents would take us to shows frequently. We would eat at famous restaurants like Gar Gazinosu, Karpic and Ankara Palas.
When did the first migrations to Israel take place?
In 1948, with the founding of Israel. There were also many that went to Istanbul with the hopes of finding a more financially promising future or marry their daughters. There were migrations to Yenisehir (New City – between Sihhiye ile Kizilay) since most houses were getting old. Kavaklidere and Cankaya were also popular. The Jewish families spread to different neighborhoods and it became a rarity to see multiple Jewish families in an apartment building.
Could you elaborate on Jewish religious life in Ankara?
Ankara Jews were not very observant; we tried to perform rituals to the best of our abilities. The most important tradition was to attend the synagogue (what we called “Kal”). If they had to work, community members would make sure to attend Kal in the morning then attend to their businesses. On friday evenings, men returning early from work would change to their Shabbat clothes and attend services. Friday night meals were always better and different than other nights. Delicious food and meticulously set dinner table. Every woman knew that her husband could come back from services with guests. If anyone was in Ankara due to business or military service and attended the Kal, they could be sure that they would be invited over to dinner.
How were holidays and Shabbat celebrated?
As in all Jewish communities, we revered the holidays with great regard. Pessah and Rosh Hashanah was celebrated two nights. As time passed, I witness stores not closing up on even the first day of the holidays. It might have been due to hardships but still everyone noticed the significance of the day. There were family visits in the morning of holidays. If it fell on a sunday, Yervas (Greens) day of Pessah would be observed. We would collect grass on our way home and scatter it in our living rooms with rice for wealth.
Volunteers in the community would help the needy, visit sick and offer support and attend to families with members on their death beds as well as death cleanup. These ladies would perform their duties willingly and sincerely.
How was the communication with greater public?
We always had good relationships. Muslims who replaced the Jews that emigrated always were please to live amongst us. We witnessed many pleasant relationships and we are still in touch with many of them. They would prefer the Jewish shops. There would usually be 1-2 Jews in public schools and they were indistinguishable from others since they spoke Turkish very well with no accent. Our kids would not see themselves as different from others. There surely were exceptions but it did not impact the day-to-day life.