LETTERS We welcome letters. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to PO Box 28849, London SW13 0WA.
THE GREENING OF JERUSALEM I read with some scepticism your interview (JR January 2010) with Naomi Tsur, the deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, in charge of environmental issues. As a regular visitor and former resident of the city, I cannot share her rosy view. Jerusalem is heavily polluted with motor fumes. An ambitious attempt to relieve traffic congestion and pollution by building a light railway has come to a complete stop. Jaffa Road which used to be the tourist centre of West Jerusalem is now mainly a huge trench devastating businesses on either side. There is little room for the tens of thousands of people who use this for access to the market and for the buses that crawl nose to nose up what is left of what was the city’s main artery.
The sides of the roads are littered with garbage thrown out of cars and garbage containers outside residential buildings are breeding grounds for Jerusalem’s feral cats, as it is common practice to leave the heavy lids open as they are so difficult to close. Apart from the occasional cage for plastic bottles, it seems that no effort is made to separate waste for recycling at collection.
Ms Tsur dreams of Jerusalem joining Medina and the Haj in a network of pilgrimage cities. This admirable aim has no bearing on the realities of this city. The truth is that environmental issues are not high on the priority list of the city’s citizens and its government. Jerusalem is essentially a poor city overwhelmed by security concerns and the welfare demands of the large Arab and Charedi communities.
Ms. Tsur must be admired for her optimism, but she might be better advised to lower her expectations and get the streets cleaned, the traffic moving, waste recycling and collection improved and either push for the completion of the light railway or for the filling of the Jaffa Road trench and cleaning up of the area. I wish her good luck.
JEWS OF TURKEY I was absolutely thrilled with the issue of Jewish Renaissance (January 2010) telling us about the Jews of Turkey. My father was born in Izmir (then Smyrna) and lived through the terrible episode of carnage between Greeks and Turks in 1922 when Jewish homes were spared by exhibiting a Star of David on their doors. What irony, considering the history of that star in later years!
My mother’s family belonged to the Jews of the Dodecanese islands, part of the Ottoman Empire until the Italians invaded in 1912. Tragic this should have happened, for during 1944 the SS arrived and took the 2,000 citizens to Auschwitz including seven members of my own extended family. I have written about all this in my collection of poems, Sweet Wine and Bitter Herbs.
What is quite fascinating is that my elder daughter, who worked for many years in film and theatre in London, suddenly decided to go and live in Turkey after a brief holiday there. She is now fluent in Turkish and is teaching the language to the expats. Recently she became a Turkish citizen; when she was interviewed by the authorities, they exclaimed: “But you are more Turkish than we are!” Amazing how our roots pull us back.
I was interested to read the account of the life of Shabatai Zvi in your feature on the Jews of Turkey. Your readers might be interested to know that the so-called ‘false messiah’ still has around 40,000 followers, scattered around the world. Sabbateans follow a loose form of Reform Judaism with the messianic spirit of Shabatai Zvi at the helm.
While researching my book The Messiah of Turkey, I met members of the underground Istanbul community. They have their own prayer house and theological college, independent and hidden from the larger Jewish community. They believe in To r ah a t s i l u t, which they describe as an early Torah; the later one following the sin of the Children of Israel when they worshipped the golden calf. This doctrine they claim to be based on the Zohar.
Influential political leaders in the two major parties of Turkey are Sabbateans, which may partly explain why Turkey is the Muslim state that maintains the friendliest relations with Israel. The Sabbateans preach a Judaism that is rather heterogeneous, a compendium of beliefs calculated to nourish the soul and the spirit of independence that they consider will alone take them to their Maker. They do not seek to proselytise, but rather invite their followers to ‘do their own thing’ in a spirit of genuine soul-searching that is independent from, yet catalogues, so they claim, the Judaic tradition and history.
A small minority believes that they should emulate Shabatai Zvi’s behaviour and practise a path of continuous conversion. To this day, his followers are outwardly Hindus, Moslems, Christians and Jews, ostensibly to broaden their horizons, on the return path to Judaism. All consider, nevertheless, that their underlying beliefs are Jewish.
2 JEWISH RENAISSANCE APRIL 2010
Some of our contributors VESNA DOMANY HARDY is a freelance writer and art historian and is British correspondent for the Croatian Jewish magazine, HA KOL.
JUDI HERMAN is a writer and broadcaster, specialising in the arts and religious affairs, mainly for BBC Radio 4 and the World Service. She has also written several stage shows.
DAVID HERMAN is a freelance writer with particular interest in Jewish-American literature, 20th century refugee artists and writers, and Jews and cinema.
AGI ERDOS is Deputy Editor of Jewish Renaissance. She also works in an editorial capacity for the Littman Library and the Louis Jacobs website.
ANGELA LEVINE, an English-born art historian and critic living in Israel, aims at ensuring that her country’s vibrant art scene receives international coverage.
DAVID RUSSELL is Director of the Rwandan Survivors Fund (SURF) and a trustee of the Congregation of Jacob Synagogue.
FURTHER READING We omitted to include in the list of books appended to our January article on Shabatai Zvi, a recent work that is based on contemporary testimonies: Testimonies to a Fallen Messiah by David J. Halperin, published by The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization 2007.