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'So Inhuman, So Insane, So Cruel' : 1,000 Mourn for 21 Jews Massacred in Synagogue

September 11, 1986|Associated Press

ISTANBUL, Turkey — In the temple still stained with the blood of the dead, more than 1,000 mourners said final prayers Wednesday for the 21 victims of a terrorist massacre at Istanbul's largest synagogue.

Women, their heads covered by black shawls, wailed as rabbis read Jewish prayers, including one asking revenge for the death of innocent people and another normally said during war.

"Those worshipers who lost their lives had not even the time to realize and understand why they were chosen as targets for such a brutal slaughter," said Jak Veissid, legal adviser to Istanbul's chief rabbi.

"No act of violence or aggression could have been so inhuman, so insane, so cruel," he said in his eulogy to the victims of Saturday's submachine gun attack at Neve Shalom Synagogue. "It is hard even to think about the motives of this madness and barbarism."

Riot Police Stand By

With helmeted riot police standing in front of the lectern, Israel's chief Sephardic rabbi, Mordechai Eliyahu, solemnly read out the names of the 21 men gunned down by terrorists during prayers Saturday.

Signs of the carnage remained: blood on walls and ceilings, blown-out windows in the synagogue dome, streaks of black soot next to the double doors of the cabinet that holds the Torah, or sacred scrolls.

Outside, police linked arms to barricade the streets around the 50-year-old synagogue, the largest of 13 in Istanbul. About 5,000 people gathered to watch as 19 plain wooden coffins were loaded onto green funeral trucks for the six-mile procession to a Jewish cemetery.

Two of the dead were buried in Israel on Tuesday.

Religious and diplomatic officials from the United States, Israel, Britain, France, West Germany, Italy, Greece and Sweden attended the funeral. The Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches also sent representatives.

The one-story synagogue on narrow Buyuk Hendek Street near the 1,400-year-old Galata Tower was open to relatives and friends of the dead, other Neve Shalom community members, officials and reporters.

One elderly woman entering the temple collapsed. Others, men and women alike, had to be supported as they walked into the hall.

Under police escort, mourners were bused to the cemetery, normally used only by Ashkenazi, or Northern European Jews. The victims were Sephardim, descendants of those who fled the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th Century, but their cemetery in Istanbul is full.

Relatives pounded in grief on the 19 coffins as they were placed before hundreds of wreaths. After a brief prayer reading, the caskets were lowered into individual graves dug side by side in a semicircle.

Monument to Be Built

A monument to the dead is to be built in the center.

Rabbis said the kaddish, a prayer asking for the soul to be lifted to heaven. Family members made a small tear in their shirts, the traditional act of mourning known as the keriah, and the ceremony ended.

Police said Wednesday that they have made no progress in their attempts to identify the attackers, to track down possible accomplices and to verify multiple claims of responsibility.

The two gunmen, believed to be Arabs in their 20s, blew themselves up with hand grenades.

During the ceremony, Neve Shalom community members pointed out that Jews have lived peacefully in this predominantly Muslim country for nearly 500 years.

"We have been here for so long that we cannot and do not feel different from other people," said Erol Dilek, president of the Neve Shalom Foundation. "This attack is in the past. It is not something we will keep inside us."

Others disagreed. "We never felt something like this could happen to Jews in Turkey," said one Jewish mourner who asked not to be named. "We were wrong."

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