An historic synagogue in Istanbul has reopened with a morning prayer performed for the first time in 65 years – another significant step for Turkey’s Jewish community.
A Tefilah, a prayer performed three times per day, was performed early on Jan. 8 in the İştipol Synagogue in Balat, a neighborhood on Istanbul’s European side on the shores of the Golden Horn, daily Vatan reported.
“It is our responsibility to protect this holy place. Let’s come to all places of worship including this to express our gratitude to God for his mercy and beauty,” said Turkey’s Jewish Community Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva after the Tefilah.
“May peace prevail across our country as well as the entire world. Today is a day of feast. God commends joy to people in days of feast. Let us come to this place of worship in joy and prayer,” Haleva added.
The synagogue was built in 1694 for Jewish immigrants coming to Istanbul from the Macedonian city of Shtip. It was severely damaged by a fire in 1899 and was renovated upon an order of Sultan Abdül Hamid II. But it has been closed for 65 years.
Among those who took part in the opening of the İştipol Synagogue were Turkish Jewish Community President Ishak Ibrahimzadeh and Minority Foundations Representative Laki Vingas, along with several members of the Jewish community.
The opening came about a year after the Great Synagogue, Europe’s second largest synagogue located in the northwestern province of Edirne, was reopened after restoration in late March 2015.
That synagogue briefly became a subject of controversy after Edirne Governor Dursun Ali Şahin told reporters last year that it would not be reopened to worship as planned, but instead be turned into a museum, in retaliation for the Israeli military raid on Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque at the time.
Şahin later offered an “apology,” claiming that his proposal “had no connection” to Turkish Jews.
Four months after the governor’s headline-making remarks, the synagogue was reopened for the use of the Jewish community, in a ceremony that saw the participation of government officials as well as Şahin.
The reopening was welcomed by the Turkish Jewish Community in a fast-breaking iftar meal on June 21, 2015, as an appreciation for the restoration of the historical Edirne Synagogue by the Directorate General of Foundations. Around 700 people attended the iftar meal.