Boaz Bismuth reports in Israel Hayom:
… the Ashkenazi synagogue in Istanbul celebrated the bar mitzvah of Eliyahu Chitrik, the son of the chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Mendy Chitrik.
It wasn’t easy to find the place. I first arrived at the Neve Shalom synagogue, where 24 people had been killed in an al-Qaida attack in 2003. A police officer manning the entrance kindly directed me toward the nearby Ashkenazi synagogue, but all the street vendors I asked for directions along the way directed me back to Neve Shalom. Only one man who was drinking a cup of tea at a cafe finally explained to me how to get there. I did not feel any hostility.
During my previous visit to Istanbul, four years ago, I was told that due to security concerns, any Jew who wants to visit the synagogue must first submit a request by fax to the congregation. I submitted a request, and my request was denied. They said they could not allow someone they didn’t know to enter the synagogue.
This time I came bearing an invitation extended by Rabbi Chitrik. It was easy to identify the grand, ancient building. Many guests poured in, and the entrance was heavily guarded. Following a thorough security check, I was allowed in. More than 100 people were already inside, praying the Shacharit morning prayer.
Alongside the regular congregation there were members of Chabad, including Rabbi Chaim Azimov, the Chabad emissary in Cyprus, and Rabbi Eliezer Chitrik, the Chabad emissary in Nuremberg and the uncle of the bar mitzvah boy. The boy’s grandparents had come from Tzfas. Everyone was singing and dancing; it was a festive celebration.
The bar mitzvah boy’s father, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Istanbul, has no complaints against the Turkish leadership.
“I have lived here for 13 years, and my congregation and I have never run into any problems,” he says in Hebrew. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “sends us a greeting every Rosh Hashanah. I assume that he will do so again this year.” He then gives his sermon in Turkish.
At the end of the prayer, the worshippers have a meal in the adjacent building, accompanied by guards. It is quite surrealistic: In an ancient Istanbul neighborhood, a kilometer from Taksim Square where the anti-Semitic riots transpired, dozens of religious Jews are seen among Turkish citizens and Muslim women wearing head coverings. Tourists look on in wonder at this unusual image. There is no hostility, no cursing or slurs. On the contrary: For a moment, everything looks normal and natural. A moment of joy in an otherwise difficult summer.
Rabbi Azimov says he has not encountered any hostility in Turkish Cyprus. He says that many of the children to Jewish families in Turkey attend the Chabad schools.
Among the guests, I see Haim Hasson, whom I met four years ago on my last visit. Hasson is responsible for informal education within the Jewish community. I asked him how he felt when he heard Erdogan’s remarks suggesting that Israel was worse than Hitler. “We’re used to it by now. He says terrible things when he’s angry,” says Hasson. “I don’t worry about it.”