It was all smiles as the sonorous sounds and echoes of the 500-year old “Adio Kerida (Goodbye my Beloved)” song played throughout the newly opened Synagogue of Edirne, Turkey.
Unlike what it would normally had been if this same requiem was rendered ages back – handkerchiefs to the eyes, and hands to heart wailing out in bitterness – this time around, it was all joy and amazement, as thousands of Turkish Jews gathered at the opening ceremony of the new Turkish synagogue.
All the Turkish Jews and the Thrace Jews who fled their homes in 1934, sang “Adio Kerida” as in oneness and pure joy, a rendition that has not been witnessed in ages within the Turkish Jewish community.
It was quite the historic celebration for Turkish Jews. Witnessing the opening of a synagogue was also a first to many people in attendance.
What made the opening ceremony of the Great Synagogue of Edirne quite emotional was the fact that it had long been abandoned, leaving the Jews with no appropriate place to congregate and worship.
The Synagogue, first built back in 1905 by Sultan Abdülhamid II, an edict from Ottoman, used to be the largest Jewish temple on the Balkan Peninsula. The structure was later abandoned in the mid-1980s, leading to the General Directorate of Charitable Foundations (GDFC) taking up ownership of the building in 1995.
However, following a five-year government restoration plan that cost $2.5 million, the March 26 re-opening was made a dream come true for many.
A lot of planning went into the big day that saw a massive turnout. Buses were organized to transport members of the Jewish community in Istanbul to the site, and lunch boxes for guests were neatly packed according to Kashrut laws. Kippahs and scarves were also freely shared among guests as a form of memorabilia to mark the day.
The event was so historic to Edirne and the whole of Turkey at large, that it brought dignitaries across all political and social strata from within and overseas. In attendance were Aurel Vainer (Romanian parliament member), Maram Stern (member of the World Jewish Congress), leaders of Jewish communities, clergymen, members of Jewish foundations from countries like Italy, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Israel, Romania, Russia, Poland and the Netherlands.
Top Turkish delegation that graced the occasion included Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and Edirne Mayor Recep Gürkan. The Governor of Edirne, who had made headlines for inappropriate statements he made concerning the synagogue, was also at the ceremony.
The grand opening of the Edirne Synagogue was kicked off with the Morning Prayer. After the prayers the Torah was given to a young boy who is mandated to deliver it down to the next generations.
— Süleyman Gökçe (@_sgokce) March 28, 2015
After the Morning Prayer session, the league of guests went to the Selimiye Mosque and then visited the Jewish cemetery. Although most of the tombs had been ransacked or had become foundations to the apartment buildings that presently stand there, the remnants of the cemetery was stilled admired by an excited crowd.
The new residents of the old Jewish neighborhood in Edirne watched in awe and curiosity, as the streets were packed full with Jewish people.
The Vice President of Quincentennial Foundation – Naim Güleryüz gave a speech detailing the history of Edirne while Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, the President of the Turkish Jewish Community, rendered an emotional speech on how the Jews were being discriminated, and stressed the need for tolerance.
— Ambassador Namik Tan (@NamikTan) March 26, 2015
Visiting the Great Synagogue brought back memories of the 1934 expulsions that drove thousands of Jews out of their native Thrace. The Jewish exile was so great that to this day only one Jewish family lives in Edirne. The president of Azerbaijan’s Jewish community captured the mood of the day by saying “this is not a big day just for you, it is a memorable day for all the Jews.”