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Bombings Heighten Fears for Turkish Jews (AP) By BURT HERMAN ISTANBUL, Turkey 11/16/03 3:46 PM)Source: AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
ISTANBUL, Turkey - To Turkish friends, he´s Halim Yesil, a salesman in the computer business. To Jewish friends, he´s Chaim Levy, whose family ties in Turkey run back five centuries, when his ancestors fled the Spanish Inquisition.

Jews have been welcomed here by sultans and presidents, but the anxiety of being in a Muslim country has always lingered. Saturday´s twin truck bombings of Istanbul synagogues, which killed 23 people and wounded more than 300, only reinforced the feelings of some Turkish Jews of being outsiders in their own country.

Jews here already were on edge after murders in August and October of two members of their faith - a dentist and a businessman. The Jewish community asked the Interior Ministry to bolster security and intensify the investigation of the killings, said Deniz Saporta, a community official.

Neither case was believed linked to Saturday´s attacks.

"Threats are rising because of problems all over the world," Saporta said. "Jews are put in the same basket all over the world. The Jewish community is a target now."

There are about 24,000 Jews in Turkey, with 22,000 living in Istanbul, said community spokesman Selvyo Ovadya. However, many believe the population may be smaller.

Yesil´s guarded attitude about his Jewish name reflects the guarded nature of the community´s institutions.

Near the Neve Shalom synagogue, one of those targeted Saturday, lies the office of the chief rabbi - who goes by the title Hahambashi, a fusion of the Hebrew word for "wise man" and Turkish for "chief." There are no signs on the red building, and only the Turkish red-and- white flag with its Islamic crescent flies outside.

A nearby Jewish museum has no signs to guide tourists, with only a menorah in a darkened gift shop window hinting at what is inside. A Jewish school in the upscale Ulus neighborhood gives no indication of its pupils, who study behind embassy-like security with barbed wire and surveillance cameras.

Jews, who are mostly secular and look to their Judaism more for cultural ties than theology, refrain from wearing Jewish yarmulkes or other traditional clothing in public.

"We´re living behind iron doors," Yesil said. "We´re not as comfortable or as free as Muslims are in this country. They have no security. We have security."

In a gated community where traditional mezuzahs grace many thresholds, homemaker Beti Ertovi said Jews have felt increasingly uncomfortable since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan´s Islamic- rooted party took power a year ago.

Saturday´s attacks "don´t make a difference - it was always like this," Ertovi, 34, said of her unease in revealing to others that she´s Jewish.

"We were expecting it," she said of the bombings.

Many Jews have left the country, and the insular community here is also shrinking as the population ages and has fewer babies. Intermarriage also is growing, despite family pressure to marry within the community.

Most Jews here are Sephardic, meaning they trace their roots to Spain and the Middle East and once spoke Ladino, a language mixing Hebrew and Spanish. However, the language is dying off, too, with many parents unable to pass it on to their children.

Yesil said he has considered leaving the country to provide better opportunities for his 7-year-old son, Elican - thoughts he reflected on again after Saturday´s attacks.

"When this kind of thing happens, it deepens our anxiety," he said. (© 2003 The Associated Press 11/16/03)

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