Noga and I landed in Istanbul late on Friday afternoon, really not knowing what to expect. After reading so much about the political climate in Turkey it was difficult to imagine it’d be a place with active Jewish communities, but I was very wrong. Our trip began with a wonderful Shabbat dinner with some of the madrichim from Alef, their Jewish teen movement, as well as my host family. It consisted of delicious Turkish cuisine, finding cultural similarities through music and netflix, and of course a lot of ridicule for being a vegetarian (I was told that there was no way I could survive four days in Turkey without eating meat).
Saturday we spent a lot of time at Alef with the teens participating in activities from Jewish folk dancing in the morning, to watching Gora, A Turkish science fiction comedy (think Austin Powers but a little crazier) in the evening. In between dancing and movie watching we got a tour of the city from the JDC fellows Ruthie and Tuli. We spent most of the day on Istiklal Street, eating more Turkish cuisine, drinking Turkish coffee, and getting tricked by an ice cream vendor with some particularly stretchy ice cream.
Throughout the visit we had lots of interesting conversations with the teens about many different things, but the most interesting topic was living a Jewish life in Turkey. I was expecting to hear that they only tell their close friends and would never say that they’re Jewish out in public, but again, I was wrong. They told us that all of their friends know that they’re Jewish and in most parts of the city they’ll talk in public about how they’re going to spend Shabbat, their support for Israel, and what programs they’re going to plan for their Jewish youth club. Their ability to express their religion freely inspired me
Thank you so much to all of the madrichim for making us feel welcome and a special thanks to Eran for being an amazing host.
Mason Quintero is an Aleph from New England Region and was the captain of his math team in high school. Mason is serving as the 94th Grand Aleph Godol of the Aleph Zadik Aleph.
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