For first time in decades, famous Turkey shul hosts wedding
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For first time in decades, famous Turkey shul hosts wedding

Under heavy security, over 1,000 attend ceremony at Grand Synagogue of Edirne, including local officials and Jewish leaders

The Grand Synagogue of Edirne in Northwest Turkey following the completion of its restoration in 2015. (Screen capture: YouTube)
The Grand Synagogue of Edirne in Northwest Turkey following the completion of its restoration in 2015. (Screen capture: YouTube)

A Jewish couple on Sunday became the first people to have a Jewish wedding in the Grand Synagogue of Edirne in over 40 years. The synagogue, located in northwest Turkey, was reopened in 2015 after a major restoration that cost over $2 million.

According to Hurriyet Daily News, the ceremony was attended by over 1,000 people, including such senior officials as Edirne’s mayor and the regional governor. Also on hand were Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, president of the Jewish Community of Turkey, and Rufat Mitrani, who is the patriarch of the only Jewish family left in Edirne.

Representatives of the Jewish society conducted the religious wedding ceremony while the mayor, Recep Gürkan, conducted the civil ceremony afterwards.

The event was not without its security concerns. Guests had to go through x-ray machines upon entering the synagogue. Security sweeps were conducted in the area of the synagogue and roads leading to it were closed off. A Turkish television crew filmed police scanning flower arrangements with metal detectors at the entrance.

The synagogue is the third-largest in the world, and the largest in Europe. Construction on the synagogue first began in 1906, after a great fire in Edirne three years earlier left the 20,000 Jews that lived there without a place of worship. It was built to hold 1,200 worshipers.

The synagogue closed in 1983 after the Jewish community dwindled to virtually no residents. Having fallen into ruin, the synagogue was renovated and reopened in 2015. A banner outside the synagogue reads, “Welcome home, our old neighbors.”

The wedding triggered a deluge of anti-Semitic speech online, a leader of the country’s Jewish community said.

Ibrahimzadeh, the Jewish Community leader, said Sunday that some social network users responded with hate speech to his invitation to watch a live streaming video of the wedding.

“Many anti-Semites regurgitated their hatred in Periscope,” Ibrahimzadeh said in reference to the streaming service that offered the feed. “They are the reason for Islamophobia. Hand in hand, we will overcome them.”

Interior of the Grand Synagogue of Edirne in Northwest Turkey following the completion of its restoration in 2015. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Interior of the Grand Synagogue of Edirne in Northwest Turkey following the completion of its restoration in 2015. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Some users wrote “kill the Jews,” the news site NRG reported Sunday. One user wrote: “Such a pity that Hitler didn’t finish the job.” Others referenced “occupied Palestine.”

On Twitter, Ibrahimzadeh urged the Turkish Justice Ministry and the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights Inquiry to investigate those responsible for the hate speech for inciting racist hatred.

“Don’t the comments on Periscope about the Edirne synagogue constitute a hate crime?” Ibrahimzadeh asked.

Edirne has few Jews and nearly all of the hundreds of at the wedding of Guneş Mitrani and Harun Esenturk came from Istanbul, elsewhere in Turkey and beyond.

Still, the guests appeared to be in high spirits inside the ornate interior of the massive, cream-colored building. Dressed in designer suits and white kippahs, the guests cheered and whistled as a relative of the bride lifted the hem of her wedding dress to show off her white shoes.

After the ceremony, guests danced the hora, a Balkan dance that is also popular in Israel and at American Jewish weddings.

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