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Treatment of Jewish Foreigners in Istanbul, Turkey

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I love Istanbul, am thinking of retiring there, and I am Jewish (a European-born Progressive American Jew). How would I be received? Would it be a serious social detriment, considering that I am very open-minded and like to make friends with many kinds of people? Are there any other non-orthodox Jewish expatriates in Istanbul?

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Jews have lived in Istanbul for centuries.  There's even a Jewish quarter of the city called Balat. I don't know how many Jewish people still live there. I've never heard of any persecution of Jews in recent times, nor have I ever heard of any prejudice against Jews among the Turks. More recently, opinions have turned against the Israeli government over the treatment of Palestinians, but that is directed at the Israeli government, not against Jewish people.

I'm a US citizen, and the US government has done some things which have aroused a lot of anger in Turkey. But as a US citizen, none of it has ever been directed at me. In my experience, Turks well understand that the actions of a government aren't the actions of an individual. I could sit with a close Turkish friend and listen to him talk all about his anger with the US government and American foreign policy (and I might just be in agreement!), but he would never even think of being angry with me personally.

So really I wouldn't worry about it at all. You'll be well received, and surprised at how friendly and hospitable the Turks are.

You might try some of the Istanbul Facebook groups to find other Jewish expats, or try Internations.com. And you could always visit a synagogue and ask.

Notable Synagogues in Istanbul

There are currently 26 active synagogues in Istanbul. Instead of listing them all, I decided to give an overview of the most notable ones from a tourist point of view.

Neve Shalom Synagogue – located in Karaköy, this is the central and largest Sephardic synagogue in Istanbul. It was inaugurated on Sunday March 25, 1951 and is open to service (see details on their website). Unfortunately, Neve Shalom has been the target of three terrorist attacks.

Ahrida Synagogue – one of the two remaining synagogues in Balat. It is the oldest and probably most beautiful synagogue in Istanbul. It was founded before the Muslim conquest of Istanbul in 1453 and has been in constant use ever since. Tourists can only visit by prior arrangement with a tour guide.

Ashkenazi Synagogue – located near the Galata Tower, it is the only currently active Ashkenazi synagogue in Istanbul open to visits and prayers.

Bet Avraam Synagogue – located behind the Sirkeci train station, it is the synagogue nearest to Sultanahmet.
Bet Israel Synagogue – located in Şişli, it is currently the most populated synagogue in Turkey. The synagogue can be visited after making appointments with Neve Shalom Foundation.

Caddebostan Synagogue – built in 1953 as a result of the increasing Jewish population in the Kadıköy district. It is the most populated synagogue on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Yanbol Synagogue – the second of the ancient synagogues in Balat.

Source: The Istanbul Insider

I'm seeing that the Ahrida Synagogue has been the target of three terrorist attacks, the latest one being in 2003. During that attack the terrorists also bombed the HSBC headquarters and the British consulate.

All said, such attacks are quite uncommon, and the chance of injury or death during your drive to the airport is far greater.

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  • Ken Grubb changed the title to Treatment of Jewish Foreigners in Istanbul, Turkey

I hope you enjoy your retirement in Istanbul. I know what you mean about the city. When I go there, sometimes I just look around and think "wow, I'm in Istanbul!"

I'm the same as you. I love to meet and get to know people who aren't from where I'm from and who have a different view of things. It seems to me Istanbul would be the ideal place for that.

Personally, I love to visit Istanbul but I don't think I would want to live there. Yet I meet people from Istanbul who would never want to live anywhere else. I ended up in Antalya. One of the main reasons I chose Antalya is because I can take a flight and be in Istanbul in an hour or so.

There are some very conservative areas of Istanbul. And also some very Bohemian areas like those around Beyoğlu. Since you're already a lover of Istanbul you probably already know that.

If you haven't done it before, do some research on the history of Jews in Istanbul. I was surprised to learn about how the Ottoman Empire was very sympathetic to the Jews who were suffering persecution in Europe, and how the sultan invited the Jews to come to Turkey.

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