14 Jews rescued from devastated Turkish city of Antakya, given shelter in Istanbul
After community leader and his wife were killed, most of city’s remaining Jews are airlifted by fundraising group Keren Hayesod
Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter
Fourteen Jews were rescued over the weekend in Antakya, a city in southern Turkey whose Jewish community lost its leader and his wife in last week’s devastating earthquakes, an Israeli fundraising group said Wednesday.
The community members, from eight families — most of the city’s remaining Jews — were flown to Istanbul, and are currently in a Jewish nursing home and in the homes of Jewish community members, according to the group, Keren Hayesod. They are expected to stay in Istanbul for the foreseeable future.
The city has two more Jewish families, who have been moved to a safe area near Antakya, the group said.
Keren Hayesod touted the roles of Istanbul’s Jewish community and Keren Hayesod donors in enabling the operation, singling out Israeli-Kazakh businessman Alexander Machkevitch.
“Even in the most difficult days following the disaster, members of Turkey’s Jewish community discovered unity which has characterized the Jewish people throughout the generations,” Machkevitch, honorary president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, was quoted as saying in a statement from Keren Hayesod.
Israeli rescue workers found the bodies of community leader Saul Cenudioglu and his wife Fortuna last Wednesday in a complex extraction operation.
They had been missing in Antakya since the earthquake hit, causing widespread damage and killing over 39,000 in Turkey and Syria.
Their deaths had been the first confirmed reports of fatalities among the Turkish Jewish community.
There has been a Jewish community in Antakya for over 2,500 years, and it is mentioned in Flavius Josephus’s “The Wars of the Jews.” Known as Antioch, the city was a key Jewish hub before and after the destruction of the second Jewish Temple in the year 70 CE.
The community numbered around 20 before the earthquake, and after the quake, it arranged for the removal of 40-year-old Torah scrolls from the synagogue.