I was in Istanbul in August to attend an interfaith symposium. While I was there, I took a half day Jewish Heritage Tour. The tour was a fantastic experience that gave me a bird’s eye view of the magnificence, resilience and challenges of Jewish life in the ancient and modern city of Istanbul.

Istanbul is a beautiful city. It is a city on the water and it is partly in Europe and partly in Asia. Istanbul has three waterways: The Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, and the Sea of Marmara. The Golden Horn is a fjord, or inlet, in the shape of a horn. I think it is call “golden” because of the lovely golden rays of the sun that wash magnificently over the buildings along the shore at sunrise and sunset.

During the Ottoman Empire, the shores of the Golden Horn were populated by Jews from Spain. Over the centuries, many Turkish Jews migrated elsewhere, either to other parts of Turkey or to the west or the east. In the 1950s and 60s, tens of thousands of Turkey’s remaining Jews migrated to Israel. Today, there are five active Sephardi synagogues in Istanbul. The word “Sephardi” is Hebrew and it means “Spanish.” Sephardi Jews are those Jews who ancestors originated in Spain or passed through Spain or adopted the practices of Spanish Jews.

Istanbul’s five active Sephardi synagogues are vibrant. They have services on Shabbat and many have services every day of the week.[1] Read more here.