During the night of December 13, for the first time in modern Turkish history, Turkish Jews hosted a public Hanukkah menorah lighting in Istanbul.
According to Turkey’s Jewish Şalom newspaper, the municipality organized the event, and the Turkish chief rabbi and members of the Jewish community attended the event.
Government officials also attended the event, which was concurrent with the eight and final night of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.
A video of the event, which was held outside the picturesque Ortakoy Mosque on the European side of the Bosphorus, displayed the menorah ready to be lit as the Muslim call to pray rang out. Pictures from the event on social media showed Turkish girls in headscarves standing next to the menorah.
On December 7, in a Hanukkah message, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “our Jewish citizens are an indispensable part of our society.
“With these thoughts I wish peace, happiness and well-being to all Jews on the occasion of Hanukkah,” Erdogan said, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.
While Jews had a rich history under the Ottomans, where they rose to prominence as ministers, traders, and buccaneers, and despite the Jews’ active involvement in the early Turkish Republic, today, Turkish Jews are no longer a major part of Turkey’s political or cultural life. In 1948, Turkey had a Jewish population of approximately 80,000, but only three years later, close to 40 percent of the Jewish population had left.
Today, 17,300 Jews officially live in Turkey, with the majority of the Turkish Jewish population living in Istanbul, making Turkey home to the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world. However, just a decade ago, the Turkish Jewish population was closer to 20,000.
Today the Turkish Jewish population faces shrinking Jewish kindergarten class sizes, a declining birth rate, emigrating young Jewish Turks, and an aging community.