As the death toll from Turkey’s devastating earthquakes earlier this month approaches 35,000, the Antakya Jewish community is mourning the deaths of Jewish community president, Saul Cenudioglu and his wife Fortuna. The two were found dead by an Israeli rescue mission last weekend. At the same time, members of eight Jewish families were rescued in a special operation and flown from Antakya to Istanbul. They are being housed in a Jewish nursing home and by members of the Jewish community in Istanbul.
The operation was made possible thanks to the cooperation of Istanbul’s Jewish community (TJC), and Keren Hayesod donors, among them Israeli businessman and philanthropist Alexander Machkevitch. Every effort was made to fly the survivors to Istanbul as quickly as possible despite the transportation chaos in the area. Thanks to the donation of Keren Hayesod and Alexander Machkevitch Istanbul’s Jewish community has arranged to provide clothing and food to their fellow Jews from Antakya, which will allow them to stay in Istanbul for the coming months, understanding that they will be unable to return to their homes in the future.
“Even in the most difficult days following the disaster, members of Turkey’s Jewish community discovered a unity which has characterized the Jewish people throughout the generations,” said Alexander Machkevitch. “I am honored to take part in this joint effort with Keren Hayesod to help our fellow Jews from Antakya, and hopefully give them an opportunity to rise from the ruins to rebuild their families and restore community life. Our hearts are with the Turkish people during this difficult time, with hope for a full recovery for the wounded and rebuilding of the area.”
In echoing his sympathy for the people of Turkey, Keren Hayesod Global Chairman Sam Grundwerg said, “Keren Hayesod continues to work tirelessly around the world, providing help and assistance wherever and whenever it is needed, fulfilling a key part of our mission to act as a bridge that connects Israel with Jewish communities in the Diaspora. We saw this as part of the mobilization for Jews in Ukraine, and in renewing the Aliyah from Ethiopia, and we can see it now as well.”
Antakya’s Jewish community has a celebrated history that goes back 2,500 years. The first mention of Jewish migration of Jews coming from Aleppo to the city can be found in The Wars of the Jews by the first-century historian Flavius Josephus. Antioch, as it was called then, became an important Jewish center both before and after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The Talmud mentions the phrase “like Antioch” in several places to describe a large city. Today, the city’s only remaining synagogue serves a congregation of some 20 people, who immediately arranged for the removal of the synagogue’s 400-year-old Torah scrolls from the dangerous area. While last week’s earthquakes are not the first to hit the city, this marks the first real threat to the very existence of the Jewish community in Antakya.