Several synagogues in Turkey have recently been restored by city or state authorities for use as cultural centers and also worship.
The restoration of several of these — including the synagogues in Edirne and Gaziantep, and the Algazi Synagogue, the Beit Hillel Synagogue, the Bikur Holim Synagogue and the Shalom Synagogue in Izmir, have been noted in an article on the judaism-islam.com web site highlighting 14 synagogues that have been restored in Muslim countries.
JHE has reported on the restoration of the synagogue in Edirne, which since 2010 has been undergoing an approximately $2 million restoration for use as a cultural center, with the possibility of holding religious services.
We have also reported on the synagogue restorations in Izmir that are part of the ambitious Izmir Project — an international initiative led by the Kiriaty Foundation to save Izmir’s unique complex of synagogues and “create a living cultural monument to the rich Jewish heritage of the city.”
The Izmir Project cooperates with the local municipality and the Jewish community to restore and reconstruct seven of Izmir’s synagogues and historic community buildings, and construct a museum with a cultural center. It formally launched a Jewish heritage tourism project last month. Four contiguous synagogues within Izmir’s historic bazaar have been designated as the core of the restoration project: the Hevra, Algazi, Signora-Giveret and the ruins of the Foresteros synagogue. Combined with two other adjacent synagogues: Etz Chaim and Shalom, in addition the Bikur-Holim synagogue nearby; they form a unique complex of diverse Sephardic synagogue styles.
The restoration of the nearby Beit Hillel Synagogue was completed earlier this year.
Nesim Bencoya, the site manage of the Izmir Project, has sent us some striking “before and after” photos of the recently restored Yabets Synagogue, in Bergama (Pergamon), which was rededicated as a ceremony in the spring of 2014 for use as a cultural center. The synagogue is believed to have been built in the second half of the 19th century. It was abandoned after being seriously damaged in a fire in the 1940s that caused the roof to collapse.
YNet News reported at the time that “the ceremony was attended by more than 300 members of the Jewish community of Izmir and led by the Chief Rabbi of Turkey, Ishak Haleva. The mayor of Bergama, Deputy Governor of the Izmir Province and a representative of the Ministry of Tourism were also in attendance. Hundreds of residents of Istanbul also arrived to the ceremony.”
YNet reported that the restoration had been a project that came about thanks to the initiative of Turkey-born Gabby Levy, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Turkey from 2007 until he was expelled in 2010 during a crisis in relations between Turkey and Israel.
Levy convinced the locals that they synagogue would be a source of attraction for some one million of tourists who visit the ruins of the nearby Greek city of Pergamon. The Mayor responded to the challenge and the project was launched.
The rehabilitation efforts were undertaken by the government of the Izmir province (Bergama is located in its territory), the Turkish Ministry of Tourism, UNESCO, and the European Union.