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01 December 2017

The Jews of Istanbul

The history of the Jewish community of Istanbul has traces back to the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. As the Sephardic (Spanish) Jews were forced to flee their homes in Spain in order to avoid forced conversion or even death, they needed somewhere with more safe to take their families.  They found that safety in Istanbul, where the Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II granted them refuge in the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan saw the great benefit of 
having the great knowledge, of science and business, that the Jewish community would bring with them. This support caused the Jewish population of Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire to grow to over 500,000.
Turkey also became a home for Ashkenazic Jews who were fleeing Russia during the 1800 and 1900's. As with previous leaders, Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, also welcomed famous scientists who were under threat in Germany and Austria to the Nazi regime, to find safety in Istanbul.
That once great community of a half of a million is today just a small piece of what it was.  In the early 1940's a wealth tax was put on the people. Even though it was intended for the wealthy Turks, it had severe effects upon the Jewish population. Many people estimate that between 25-35K Jews were forced to flee the country when they became unable to pay their debts. Later the Istanbul pogrom of September 1955 against the Greek, Jewish and Armenian communities caused another 10,000 Jews to flee the country.
Today, the population is about 25,000, with most Turkish Jews living in Istanbul. Even though the numbers are smaller there are still more than 25 synagogues throughout the country. 
Ahrida Synagogue (Tripadvisor.com)
One of these, the Ahrida Synagogue, was built in 1453, before the Muslim conquest, and still is in use today.
For those interested in researching the Jewish family from Istanbul, one of the best ways to start is at the Sephardicgen website. Compiled by Dr. Jeffrey Malka, this site is a must for anyone researching Sephardic roots. Below is just a part of the sources he has for research in Istanbul.




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