Head of Tiny Jewish Community in Turkey´s Antakya Feared Dead; Torah Scrolls Saved

Home of Saul Cenudioglu and wife Fortuna in Antakya collapsed in quake; Israeli ambassador says no word on any Israelis hurt in catastrophic temblors that hit region
Head of Tiny Jewish Community in Turkey´s Antakya Feared Dead; Torah Scrolls Saved
Screen capture from video of Torah scrolls being removed from the earthquake-damaged synagogue in Antakya, Turkey, February 7, 2023 (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

By TOI STAFF,  February 7, 2023,  The Times of Israel

The head of a small Turkish Jewish community and his wife were feared dead after their apartment building collapsed during the devastating earthquakes on Monday that killed over 4,000 people in southern Turkey and neighboring Syria.

Rescuers were working to find Saul and Fortuna Cenudioglu in the rubble of their home in the southern Turkish town of Antakya on Tuesday. They had not yet been declared dead but were presumed to have been killed during the tremors.

“Regrettably, the president of the Jewish community in Antakya, Saul Cenudioglu, and his wife, were apparently killed in the disaster,” ambassador Irit Lillian told Channel 12.

A leading rabbi in the Turkish Jewish community, Mendel Chitrik, said the local synagogue in Antakya “is not in a good condition, but it has not been completely destroyed. There are cracks and dramatic damage.”

Chitrik posted a video of himself helping remove Torah scrolls from the damaged synagogue in an effort to save them.

A photo posted by another user on Twitter showed the damaged Torah storage room.

“The end of a 2,500-year-old love story,” the user wrote.

There has been a Jewish community in Antakya for over 2,500 years, although there are thought to only be 12 elderly members left, including the couple who are missing.

Chitrik has reported that as far as he knows, there were no other fatalities or missing people among Turkish Jewish communities, though some were rescued from collapsed buildings.

Lillian said the embassy is still trying to check if any Israelis were injured but noted that Israeli do not much frequent the areas worst hit by the quake.

“As far as we know, there are no calls for help from Israelis,” she told Channel 12.

Lillian said that almost immediately after the earthquake, international aid had poured into Turkey. Israel also sent a delegation of IDF emergency response units that arrived on Tuesday.

“There is a very high level of responsiveness,” she said.

Lillian said that the local authorities are experienced in dealing with earthquakes but that the cold wintry weather is a challenge. When the Israeli aid delegation arrived there was deep snow on the runways, she noted, and snow is blocking access roads to disaster-hit areas.

Lillian also commented on Israeli aid that will go to Syria, a country that is at war with the Jewish state.

“In a time of emergency, everything is put aside,” she told Ynet. “The saving of human lives comes before everything else.”

A request for aid from Syria was reportedly made via Russian mediators. Israel will send tents, medication, and blankets.

Israel’s ambassdor in Turkey, Irit Lillian (Foreign Ministry)

Israel’s ambassdor in Turkey, Irit Lillian (Foreign Ministry)

Alon Lavi, a Foreign Ministry representative accompanying the Israeli aid delegation, said Tuesday that the forces will head straight to the epicenter of the earthquake’s devastation.

“We will focus on aid and rescue at this stage,” he said. “In the second stage, we will try to help with tents, blankets, and coats. The first and most important stage is saving lives, then medical aid and at the same time humanitarian aid in the form of providing blankets, coats and other things that the Turkish asked for.”

The confirmed death toll across the two countries has soared above 5,000 after a swarm of strong tremors near the Turkey-Syria border — the largest of which measured at a massive 7.8-magnitude. The tremors were felt Monday in many areas of Israel as well, though there were no injuries or significant damage to buildings.

The earthquakes continued Tuesday, with the Euro-Med Seismological Centre reporting a series of smaller tremors in the predawn hours.

At least 17 earthquakes have hit the region in just over 24 hours, the center said.

Turkish and Syrian disaster response teams report over 5,600 buildings have been flattened across several cities, including many multi-story apartment blocks that were filled with sleeping residents when the first quake struck. Many thousands of people were injured in the quakes.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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