Respect Not Tolerance; Not Only Living Together but Creating Together...

The nine synagogues in the Kemeralti district of Izmir that are in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Tentative List, were at the 7. Heritage Istanbul Conservation, Restoration, Archeology, Museum, Librarianship Technologies Fair and Conference.
Respect Not Tolerance; Not Only Living Together but Creating Together...

Translation by Janet MITRANI

Izmir's cultural heritage was introduced in the framework of the 'Heritage Talks' among the events of the fair organized at Istanbul Lütfi Kırdar International Convention and Exhibition Center, on dates May 3-5.

The presentation was performed by Izmir Jewish Cultural Heritage Project Coordinator Nesim Bencoya who has been working hard to restore and turn the old Jewish Quarter and the synagogues in the historical Kemeraltı Bazaar in Izmir into one of the city's tourist attractions and the Project Assistant tourist guide Tilda Koenka.

It was expressed that the Jewish presence in Izmir actually dated back to the 4th century B.C., and it had received migrations from many places and cultures until our day. Koenka, during the presentation, saying that Sephardic Jews had come to Izmir in the 15th century, explained that Sabbatai Zevi had introduced his messiah movement in this city, and later in the 1850s the community had entered an enlightenment period, their population increasing to about 30,000 people.

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Bencoya took the stand to talk about Izmir's nine synagogues, stating that there were nine synagogues in the old Jewish Quarter, and pointed out that all of these synagogues were situated very close to each other.

Expressing that the Foresteros, Sinyora, Hevra, and Algazi synagogues formed the heart of the old Jewish Quarter, Bencoya said, "We are not establishing a new synagogue. We want to turn the region into an open-air museum by conserving and restoring the existing ones. Kemeralti had survived with its bazaar and nine synagogues."

The audience listened with interest to the information given about the synagogues reflecting the architectural structures of various periods: 'Bikur Holim' which is a Sephardic Synagogue, had once been used as a hospital. The 'Algazi Synagogue' where prominent rabbis were taught had been built by the Algazi Family and dated back to Sabbatai Zevi era. 'Sinyora (Señora)' or 'Lady Synagogue' had been built by donations of a lady named Lea. The 'Şalom Synagogue' being one of the oldest synagogues, was the synagogue of the Jewish Community which had started being organized in the 1620s. 'Beit Hillel Synagogue' was built in the 17th century. 'Portuguese Synagogue' is the synagogue built by the konverso (converso - convert) Jews who had migrated from Portugal to Izmir. 'Etz Hayim', though not been proven, is assumed to be a Byzantine synagogue. 'Talmud Tora (Hevra) Synagogue' has been used as a Judaism education place. We've also learned that the 'Foresteros Synagogue' was established by Frankos, got the name 'Foresteros' meaning 'foreigners' or 'guests' in Spanish, had served the new Jewish immigrants who came to Izmir and joined the local Jewish community, and that it had probably been built in the 17th century. Nowadays concerts, exhibitions, film screenings, and Klezmer concerts are organized at these venues.

Bencoya, expressing that this project would contribute greatly to the city's tourism, said "Kemeralti is an exceptional location, it makes a great difference in faith and culture tourism. If we foster these places, it will considerably contribute to tourism. Our goal is to establish universal cultural venues for future generations. Not tolerance but respect and creating together."

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