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The Slaughter of Innocents

September 15, 1986

The attack on a synagogue in Istanbul was both shocking and tragic. When one recalls that many of Istanbul's Jews are the descendants of Sephardic Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition 500 years ago, this latest episode more acutely reminds us of the need to resist terrorism.

I recall that on my first visit to Istanbul in 1981, the release of the American hostages from Iran was still fresh in everyone's minds. The Turkish government, fearing further terrorist actions against Americans, provided protection in the form of an armed escort for Americans attending Anglican services at the chapel located on the grounds of the British Consulate.

On Nov. 1, All Saints' Day, the custom was for the parishioners at St. Helena's Chapel from the British Consulate to travel across the Bosporus and south along the Marmara coast to a suburb of Kadikoy to share in the celebration of All Saints' Day at All Saints' parish in Moda. There, a handful of British expatriates, Americans and Turkish Anglicans maintained their tiny chapel in what once was a large British community.

Rather than preventing our annual pilgrimage to Moda, the Turkish government sent along a van full of Turkish soldiers, armed to the teeth, to accompany us all the way to All Saints' parish. Upon arrival, the soldiers surrounded the chapel and guarded us throughout the ceremony. Indeed, after the service, the congregation walked across the street to the home of one of the parishioners for the usual after-Mass tea and crumpets. Again, the Turkish soldiers surrounded the building for our protection.

I urge the Turkish government to extend the same high level of competence and professionalism to the protection of the Jews of Turkey in their places of worship. I feel certain that such plans are already under way.

Since that first visit in 1981, I have made two subsequent trips to Turkey and hope to return this fall. For one thing, when dealing with the silk merchants on Istiklal Street, if my Turkish fails me, I can always fall back on the Spanish I learned from my grandmother Nunez. Since many of the Jews of Istanbul speak Ladino, no breakdown in communication need occur.


Sierra Madre

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