Neve Shalom Synagogue, Istanbul

Neve Shalom Synagogue, Büyük Hendek Caddesi No. 67, is midway between the Galata Tower and Sishane Square.

Because it is the largest synagogue in Istanbul, it is the traditional center of the city’s 25,000-person Jewish community.

Designed and decorated in a modern style, it was inaugurated on March 25, 1951, and is used for major functions of the community such as bar mitvahs, weddings and funerals. The bema and ark are at the front of the hall, with seating around three sides.

In September, 1986, Arab terrorists staged a terrorist attack with guns and grenades on worshippers in the synagogue, killing 23. The Turkish government and people were outraged by the attack. The damage was repaired, except for several bullet holes in a seat-back, left as a reminder.

On Saturday, November 15, 2003, a car bomb exploded right outside the synagogue during a bar mitzvah service when the hall was filled with worshippers. Hundreds of people–mostly Turkish Muslims who lived or worked in the neighborhood–were wounded, and over a dozen killed. The front of the synagogue was blown away and a two-meter-deep hole blown in the street. Preliminary reports say that Muslim fundamentalists linked to Al Qaeda were suspected.

Jews have lived in what is now Turkey since Romantimes, although the ancestors of most of Istanbul’s present-day Jewish community are Sephardim who were driven from Spain in 1492 by the Spanish Inquisition. They were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire by Sultan Beyazit II and have made significant contributions to Turkish culture, society, science and the economy over succeeding centuries.

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