I don’t know why I had always wanted to go to Turkey, but my husband agreed to go for our 40th anniversary. It was incredible!
Our first stop was the Neve Shalom Synagogue which means “Peace Oasis”. It opened its doors In March 1951 and is Istanbul’s most modern Synagogue. Despite its name, Neve Shalom has not always been a peaceful place. The most recent attack by Islamic militants happened in 2003. We entered Neve Shalom after they matched our passport pictures with our faces. It is a magnificent building beautifully decorated with wood paneling and stained glass windows. Look carefully and you will see a bullet hole in one of the chairs from the first attack and netting under each chair that holds a hard hat and flashlight to assist the worshippers in case there’s another one. On Shabbat morning, the street is closed off and protected by armed guards. That being said, we saw a Chuppah set up for a wedding. The Jewish guide told us that Neve Shalom is still a very active Synagogue in spite of the tragedies that happened there.
We entered the Ahrida Synagogue, again after they matched our passport pictures with our faces. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in this beautiful synagogue built in the 15th century; otherwise I could show you the beautiful Noah’s Ark that serves as their Bimah. There is a belief that Noah’s Ark landed on top of Mount Ararat in the Republic of Turkey near Armenia and Iran; so there are many references to it in Turkish décor.
The Zulfaris Synagogue was first built in the 17th century and then rebuilt in the 19th century. It is no longer used as a Synagogue. In 2001, the Jews and Muslims of Turkey joined forces and turned it into a Jewish museum commemorating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Sephardic Jews to the Ottoman Empire. All the exhibits are hung within the original structure of the museum.
And then on to the markets. The colors, the aromas, the variety of vegetables, dried fruits, spices, teas, candies, and pastries were intoxicating. You literally didn’t know where to turn first. Everything is displayed with such beauty. Each candy, pastry or dolma (stuffed anything: onions, potatoes, grape leaves,zucchini,eggplant..) is a work of art. No shortcuts are taken in Turkish cuisine. I knew I had my work cut out for me. Next week I will share some recipes I created when I got back inspired by my trip.