"The Turkish Roots That Will Stay With Me Forever"

"The Turkish Roots That Will Stay With Me Forever"
Neve Shalom Synagogue (photo by Dean Shmuel Elmas)

By Dean Shmuel ELMAS

The Bible teaches us that God's works are hidden from our sight, and I encountered this in Istanbul in a very unique way. Because of my background and knowledge, Globes Editor-in-Chief Naama Sikuler decided that I should be the specific Journalist who would fly to Istanbul as Türkiye was about to hold its first-ever presidential run-off. I had no idea that by doing so, I would close a significant circle for Izak Elmas, my late grandfather.

In the 1950s, my grandfather wanted to go to Tel Aviv to watch Lev Yashin and the USSR national team play against Israel, as well as visit his brother Albert, and then return to Istanbul. Yet, God chose for him to encounter my late grandmother, Aliza Barokas, and remain in Israel. My grandfather didn't return to pray in his magnificent synagogue, Neve Shalom, after leaving his Fenerbahçe season ticket at home, as far as my family is aware.

As I already stated, my journey to Istanbul last week had one goal: elections. The most fascinating elections in Türkiye in the past 21 years, possibly even longer. On Sunday, "the money time" began for me. Elections, vote counts, and celebrations, of course. The fact that supporters of the AKP and President Erdoğan didn’t recognize me as a foreigner was a really unusual experience for me. Monday marked the grand finale of the democratic party's campaign in the Turkish elections.

The impacts of the election results on the local economy are quite relevant for Globes because I work for a well-known financial newspaper in Israel, and we began to see them on Monday. Because of how bad things are right now, I'm hoping that things will get better economically in Türkiye soon.

Don't worry, this isn't a pessimist column on Turkish Economics; rather, it's a very optimistic one about the stronger-than-expected connection I have to my roots in Istanbul. I made the decision to walk to The Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews on Tuesday after receiving advice from my Turkish family members, many of whom are very respected members of the Jewish community, such as Şeli and Robert Elmas.

I was aware that I wouldn't be allowed to enter the Neve Shalom synagogue. When I paid the museum's admission fee, the staff members' surprised expressions when I mentioned "Elmas from Rishon LeZion, Israel" caught my attention. I then stated why it was so important for me to attend the museum because my late grandfather used to pray in Neve Shalom until the 1950s.

Neve Shalom Synagogue, Istanbul

I began my tour and had tears in my eyes the entire time due to this incredible museum (and I am fairly certain that I am not the only person to feel that). I think that if 194,718 Israelis visited the country between January-April 2023, according to the Türkiye Ministry of Culture and Tourism, many more of them should visit this museum.

One by one, the family tales I've heard made a connection to reality. At another point, I was on the top, closed balcony above the synagogue and thought, "How sad that not everyone can see this amazing synagogue from inside because of terror attacks and threats".

I had no idea what the museum staff would do for me when I came to thank them and purchase a few souvenirs. I'm sorry I can't remember his name, but I know he supports Fenerbahçe. He took me by the hand without saying anything, and I was inside the synagogue in five seconds.

I sat on a chair there and cried because I was so shocked and in disbelief. After about two minutes of deep breathing, I made the decision to read Psalms chapters for the soul-lifting of my grandfather. I called my father after the Psalms chapters and showed him the synagogue. While I know from a shared acquaintance that Rabbi Isak Haleva recalls my grandfather from their youth, it was quite exciting for me to walk there and try to picture where my grandfather sat there. I was extremely appreciative of the team's kind act as my tour came to a close, and I still am. Kol Israel Haverim.

Unintentionally, I chose to end my Jewish day at the stadium where my grandfather first discovered a passion for football, Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium. As I watched Fenerbahçe's match versus Antalyaspor, I attempted to imagine my grandfather's location once again. Even when they were angry because Galatasaray won the title, Fenerbahçe supporters are incredible. In Israel, Fenerbahçe has a real fan.

Fenerbahçe Rüştü Saraçoğlu Stadium, Istanbul

Though I intend to visit Istanbul and Türkiye again soon, I won't forget that incredible Tuesday, which served as a reminder to me that, despite being an Israeli, I have strong roots in Türkiye and will always call it home.


Dean Shmuel Elmas,

Geopolitics and Energy Journalist, Globes

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