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Bejerano (Becerano), Bekhor Hayyim

(466 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Bekhor Ḥayyim Moşe Bejerano, born in Eski Zagra (now Stara Zagora), Bulgaria, in 1846, was a respected scholar and the chief rabbi of the Turkish Republic from 1920 to 1931. From a very early age, he was educated in traditional Talmud Torahs and yeshivas. He also studied foreign languages and many other secular subjects, and ultimately became fluent in more than fifteen languages.             In 1880, Bejerano moved to Ottoman-ruled Rusçuk (Ruse), Bulgaria, where the students he taught included a future historian of Ottoman Jewry, Solomon Rosanes. Bejerano …

Benbanaste, Nesim

(277 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Nesim Benbanaste (1939—1992) was a prominent Turkish Jewish writer and intellectual. After completing his high school education at Beyoğlu Musevi Lisesi (Beyoğlu Jewish Lycée) in Istanbul, Benbanaste attended the Faculty of Law of Istanbul University. He later worked at several private schools as a teacher and director. He was affiliated with one of Turkey’s oldest publishing association, the Türk Basın Birliği (Turkish Press Union).             From 1963 until his death, Benbanaste wrote numerous articles, essays, poems, and translations. An admirer of Atat…

Ocak Bazirgani

(472 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
The post of ocak bazirgâni (corps merchant), also called ocak sarrafi (corps banker), was an important official position dominated by Jews in the Ottoman Empire. The ocak bazirgâni acted as chief purveyor and financier of the Janissary corps, a major element of the Ottoman army, providing all essential supplies, including cloth and uniforms, often made by Jewish textile manufacturers. The incumbent was, in the words of Bernard Lewis, “a kind of private enterprise quartermaster.” Like many other influential offices in the Ottoman Empire, that of ocak bazirgâni became hereditary an…

Franco, Moïse

(423 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Moïse (also Moïses) Franco was a longtime educator and school director in the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) network of schools and a writer of textbooks, newspaper articles, and a popular history of Ottoman Jewry. He was born in Istanbul in 1864 to parents who were Austrian subjects. After completing his elementary education, Franco attended the École Normale Israélite Orientale in Paris and thereafter returned to the Levant to serve as a teacher in Edirne (Adrianople). In 1897, he founded the Alliance school in Safed, Palestine, despite the opposition of the local r…

Romano, Marco

(218 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Marco Romano, born in *Plovdiv (Filibe) in 1872, was a Bulgarian publisher, lawyer, and Zionist leader. He was exposed to Jewish studies and Zionism at a very young age. In 1898, he attended the first Zionist convention in Plovdiv , where he argued against the Alliance Israélite Universelle schools on the grounds that they did not represent the ideal Jewish national character. His lobbying led to the replacement of many of the teachers in the Alliance schools of Bulgaria with more traditional Hebrew educators.             Romano was the Bulgarian representative at several Zioni…

Ovadya, Silvyo

(239 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Silvyo Ovadya,  the leader of the Jewish community in Turkey since 2004, was born in Istanbul in 1955. Since 1971, he has worked for Jewish youth clubs, the Or-Ahayim Hospital, the Hahambaşılık (chief rabbinate), and most importantly the Şalom newspaper, as its publishing coordinator for twelve years and its administrative head for nineteen years. Ovadya attended the Lycée Français Privée Saint-Benoît, a missionary school in Istanbul, and received his bachelor’s degree from Istanbul Teknik Üniversitesi (ITÜ) in electronics and communications engineering. He began hi…

Brudo, Berta

(163 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Berta Bensusen Özgün Brudo (1926—2008) was a famous Turkish poet. She was born in Çanakkale, but moved to Istanbul to attend the Işık Lisesi (IstanbulIşıkHigh School) there. Upon graduation she worked at Şark Sigorta (Şark Insurance) for several years. In addition to her poetry, she wrote articles, composed music, and drew caricatures.             Brudo’s books of poetry include Berta’nın Şiirleri (Berta’s Poems; 1986) and Beşyüz Yılın Destanı (Epic of 500 Years, 1991). She also wrote a memoir entitled Yedi Nesil Öncesinden Günümüze Yolculuk (A Journey from Seven Generations …

Levi, Davishon (Davichon Levy)

(200 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Davishon Levi (Davichon Levy), from the city of Ioannina (Janina) in Epirus, was one of the six Jewish deputies in the Ottoman parliament during its second term from 1877 to 1878 (the others were Menahem Salah from Baghdad, Avram from Salonica, Yaver Disraeli and Salamon from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Samuel Molho from Istanbul). During his parliamentary service, Levi  demonstrated great expertise in economics and fiscal policy.  He frequently called attention to the Ottoman government’s wasteful spending and rising debts, attacked some of its policies as irres…

Pleven (Plevna)

(281 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Pleven (Plevna) is an ancient city in northern Bulgaria. Historical accounts suggest that a Jewish community existed in the city in the Byzantine period. The town accommodated Jewish refugees expelled from Hungary in 1376. In the fifteenth century, Ottoman-ruled Pleven became a popular destination for Jewish refugees from Wallachia, Bavaria, and Spain. In addition, following the Ottoman conquest of Hungary in 1526, many Hungarian Jews flocked to Pleven. The 1579 census listed 209 Jewish households (out of a total of 991 households), mainly Ashkenazi, Hungarian, and Sephardi Jews,…

Russo, Nissim

(281 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Nissim Russo was born in Salonica in the late nineteenth century. He was one of the few Turkish Jews to participate in politics around the beginning of the twentieth century, serving as an undersecretary in the Ministry of Finance and as a member of the Ottoman parliament. Throughout his political career, Russo lobbied the Turkish government to support Zionism. In addition, he was a member of the Committee of Union and Progress and one of the early leaders (possibly even a co-founder) of the Young Turk movement. Russo was an active participant in the Young Turk Revolution of 1908. In add…

Ashkenazi Synagogue, Galata, Istanbul

(203 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
The Ashkenazi Synagogue, also called the Yüksekkaldırım Ashkenazi Synagogue, is located near the Galata Tower in Istanbul. The synagogue was inaugurated in September 1900, following an edict granting permission to build it by Sultan Abdülhamid II. Construction was funded by Ashkenazi Jews of Austro-Hungarian origins, led by donor named Hermann Goldenberg. The architect of the synagogue was G. J. Cornaro from Venice. A carving master of the period, Fogelstern, carved the wooden sanctuary and the altar. The synagogue has a European-style facade displaying an exter…

Nadi, Yunus

(442 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Yunus Nadi Abalıoğlu (1945) was an influential Turkish journalist, publisher, and politician. Born in 1879 in the town of Fethiye in the province of Muğla, he attended the Medrese-i Süleymaniye in Rhodes and later transferred to the Galatasaray Lisesi (Galatasaray High School) in Istanbul. Subsequently, he attended Istanbul University and obtained a degree in law.             Nadi began his journalistic career in 1900 at the newspaper Malumat. In 1901, he was sentenced to three years in prison for his alleged connection with an anti-government organization. In…

Razon, Norma

(291 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Norma Razon, born in Istanbul in 1946, is a renowned Turkish child psychologist and pedagogical expert. She graduated from the Lycée Notre Dame de Sion in Harbiye, Istanbul, in 1964, and then enrolled in the Pedagogy Department of Istanbul University, graduating in 1968. She continued doing pedagogical research at the university, obtaining her doctorate and later her professorship in 1972 and 1988, respectively, and was a member of the faculty of Istanbul University until 1997.             In addition to lecturing at Istanbul University, Razon participated in seminars …

Hahamhane Nizamnamesi (General Regulations of the Rabbinate)

(783 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
In July 1863, in furtherance of the Ottoman Tanzimat reforms, Fuad Pasha, the grand vizier, ordered the acting chief rabbi of Istanbul, Yakir Geron, to embark on a process of restructuring the Jewish community and the rabbinate. Geron organized a committee for this purpose. Led by the influential philanthropist Abraham de Camondo and consisting of fourteen regional representatives from Istanbul, the committee selected twelve lay administrators and four rabbis to formulate a reform statute. Their proposals were presented to Sultan Abdüleziz in …

Societies, Social Organizations (Modern Turkish)

(1,142 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Despite its relatively small (and shrinking) Jewish population of about twenty thousand, there are many Jewish  societies and social organizations in modern Turkey. Jewish societies and organizations first began to appear in many Ottoman localities in the 1880s. Today they are mostly concentrated in Istanbul and are supervised by the chief rabbinate of Turkey. They include several foundations, the community’s school and newspaper, charitable and welfare societies, and social clubs. The most prominent Jewish organization in Istanbul is the Neve Shalom Foundation. It is resp…

Silistre (Silistria)

(480 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Silistre (Silistra, Silistria) is an ancient border town in northeastern Bulgaria. After the Ottoman conquest of the region in 1396, Silistre was transformed into a military and trade center. Due to its proximity to the Russian border, it regularly suffered attacks from this direction, particularly in the eighteenth century and afterward. In 1829 Silistre was briefly occupied by the Russians. During the Crimean War (1853–1856), the town was again besieged by the Russians in 1854. The Turkish defense of Silistre was one of the war’s famous events; the excep…

Or Ahayim Hospital, Istanbul

(347 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Or-Ahayim (Heb. Or ha-Ḥayyim, Light of Life) Hospital in Balat, Istanbul, opened in 1887. It was originally an institution for needy Jews but now serves the general public. It was founded by idealistic doctors and philanthropists led by Dr. Captain Rafael Bey Dalmediko. Other members of the founding group included Dr. Avramino de Castro, Abraham Gerson, Admiral Dr. İzak Molho Paşa (the inspector general of the Ottoman fleet, later vice-admiral, d. 1920), Jakob Habib, the banker Jozef Halfon, Robert Levi, Yuda Levi Kebapçıoğlu, Samuel Rizzo, Elia Suhami Rafael Levi, Dr. İzidor Grayver…

Chana (Ciana) Synagogue

(162 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
The Chana (Çana, Ciana) Synagogue in theBalat quarter of Istanbulwas used in Byzantine times by Romaniot Jews from the Macedonian town of Tzyana. Some architects believe that the building was originally planned as a han, or commercial building, before becoming a synagogue. In 1663, Sephardi Jews took over the synagogue. Until 1908, it served also as the seat of a bet din (rabbinical court). For some time, the basement was used as a Jewish community prison. The synagogue building housed numerous Jewish refugees during the Turkish War of Independence (1919–…

Yahya, Nedim

(324 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Nedim Nessim Yahya, born in Istanbul in 1925, was a Turkish businessman, industrialist, and leader of the Jewish community. He graduated from the Jewish High School in Istanbul in 1943 and subsequently attended Istanbul Technical University, where he obtained a degree in electrical and mechanical engineering in 1948. Afterwards, Yahya started his own business selling milling machinery. Over the years, he became a successful and highly respected businessman and industrialist.             In the late 1960s, the lay council ( meclis cismani) of Turkey’s chief rabbinate appoint…

Modiano, Albert

(360 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
Alberto Modiano, born in Istanbul in 1960, is an internationally known Turkish professional photographer, historian, and educator. Modiano had his first experience with photography at a very early age because his father was a representative of the Italian Bencini cameras. He began his photographic career in 1979 as an amateur while working as an accountant. After gaining some experience, he opened three galleries in Büyükada, joined İFSAK (the Istanbul Amateur Photography and Cinema Association), and became involved in its publishing and research activities betw…
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