Berta Rayna goes to synagogue only on special occasions - like
the bar mitzvah she was attending on Saturday when powerful suicide
bombings hit two of the city's main synagogues. The attacks killed
25 people and injured over 300 in a strike that authorities say was
perpetrated by Turks trained by Al Qaeda.
Tuesday, the red-haired grandmother was one of several thousand
mourners who huddled in the freezing rain to lay to rest six victims
from the Jewish community - a minority amid Muslim casualties. As
Ms. Rayna stood with her daughter and granddaughter, she struggled
with the images running on replay in her head: the crash of the
explosion, the shattering of crystal teardrops in the chandeliers,
the people who didn't make it.
Turkey's entire Jewish community is in a similar state of shock
after the weekend bombings, trying to come to terms with its future
in a Muslim country which has been largely hospitable to Jews - but
which is no longer on the fringes of the map of the Middle East's
problems. Although synagogues and individual Jews here have been
attacked before, Saturday's bombings appear to mark the first time
Turks have been involved in a major attack on a Jewish target. A
1986 attack on the Neve Shalom synagogue, where Rayna was on
Saturday, was carried out by Palestinians affiliated with the Abu
"I married all three of my children there," she says, her blue
eyes turning glassy behind her large spectacles. "But right now, I
wouldn't go back there for quite a while."
Fears of additional attacks have raised concerns in Istanbul that
the city's Jews, a largely middle-class population of about 20,000
people, will have a hard time picking up the pieces. Already, many
of the city's approximately 15 synagogues are in well-guarded,
unmarked buildings, while youth and social clubs are tucked
anonymously into quiet side streets.
Still, the community had been undergoing something of a
renaissance in the past few years, with an upsurge in cultural
activities. In September, the community participated in a European-
wide day of Jewish culture by holding openhouses in all of its
synagogues, institutions, and museums. Now, those doors are likely
to close - all social activities and meetings have been canceled
until further notice.
"I have a feeling that this will affect people in a very bad way.
People were just starting to send their kids out to be more involved
with the community, and now I think they will be more afraid," says
Stella Issever, a community veteran who came back to Istanbul from
the US Thursday - and narrowly missed the bombings by choosing to
attend a different synagogue. "But for someone who goes to
synagogue, it's a part of life, and you can't not go back to it."
Silvyo Ovadya, a spokesman for the community, says he hopes the
community will recover as soon as the buildings are repaired. "In
the long term, people will come again, because the real issue isn't
Turkish terrorism, it's international terrorism. Maybe they used
Turkish people to do it, but the planning was not made in Turkey."
Indeed, Turkish officials say that the bombings have links to
Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, and that the men suspected of carrying
out the bombings had training abroad. …