I was never successful at explaining to people how I was always more Turkish than Israeli, and at the same time, more Jewish than Turkish. The recent earthquake that shook Turkey complicates matters even more. On one hand, I can’t ignore the fact that it occurred in the eastern side of the country, where hardly any Jews live, and where an Iranian border sets the tone with extreme anti-Semitism. On the other hand, I can’t ignore the fact that Turkey is my country, and that I am a true born Turk.
I am faced with a predicament. My brain and logic have prioritized my identity, Turkish and Jewish, and not necessarily in that order. However, my Israeli identity arrives in third place, and here I am again, the earthquake rattling my belief system. Images are rushing to my head of IDF soldiers rescuing the injured and the dead from the wreckage on Turkish soil. It was all of us, not just “them” conducting the rescue, which is exactly what I learned during the semester I spent in Israel, in the Hod Hasharon Campus of Alexander Muss High School in Israel. Truth being told, I have subconsciously known this my entire life.
I was about six-years old when I had my first encounter with Israel. Imagine yourselves entering the most terrifying prison- like fortress you have ever seen. Around the fortress are people circling around, dressed in white and black striped uniforms, singing together loudly with no rhythmic sense. They are cursing, yelling, screaming, fighting, the whole deal. Upon looking up one could see an even scarier sight. Thousands of arms and hands waving frantically and screaming at a small bus arriving at a distance, driving very slowly and surrounded by guards.
There I was, in the middle of all of this, a young Turkish girl with twinkling eyes, trying to keep a straight face. I was escorted by who was then my best friend (a firm Muslim Turk) and her father, a department manager at one of the paint factories in Istanbul. We marched on, and entered the fortress. It was at that very moment that my heart was swept away.
Her name was Beşiktaş, the magnificent Turkish Soccer team playing in the İnönü stadium. The funny thing was that out of that slow moving bus, stepped out an Israeli team, Hapoel Haifa, dressed in red team colors. That was the reason my father asked his friend to take me to see the game, so that I could see one of “our own” soccer teams with my own eyes. Hapoel Haifa won the game and I returned with a hatred for the team that took away Beşiktaş’ chance of victory in the first game I ever saw.
More than 10 years later, and the atmosphere ceases to be romantic or exciting, and has now become disconcerting when I see Palestinian and Hamas signs vigorously protesting what happened on the Marmara, as another Israeli team, this time Maccabi Tel Aviv, steps onto the field.
Just in case...
I really love Turkey. We are part of a Jewish community with 500-year-old roots. Unfortunately, this community is becoming smaller everyday due to a low birthrate, mass migration out of Turkey, assimilation, and people making Aliyah to Israel.
I have never had the need to discuss my Jewish identity, let alone my Israeli identity, if one even exists. We are a Jewish family with a connection to Israel, and as fit for a Turkish family we enjoy (despite what people might think) freedom of religious rituals and worship. Holidays and vacations, Jewish schools, synagogues, and Jewish after school clubs, all out in the open, and with no reason to fear. However, with that being said, one cannot ignore the current situation. I am constantly asked “how can you live in Turkey?” Please understand that in the Turkey that exists outside of Istanbul, it is not known that there are thousands of Jews living inside of Istanbul. Even some of our neighbours don’t know we are Jewish. So on one hand, there is a rise in anti-Semitism and incitement, and on the other hand, there is a calm life with lower decibels.
During my time spent at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel in Hod Hasharon, I learned about Rehavam Zeevi, Tel Aviv, The birth of the nation, Yoni Netanyahu, biblical stories as well as Israeli history, and mostly spent time with other Jews from different countries. However, and this might come as a disappointment to some of you, my strongest memory is of the Blue Falafel stand in Hod Hasharon.
Nevertheless, the next thing I recall the most is the mutual responsibility we had for one another, which cannot be measured in numbers or figures. I met Jewish teenagers from all over the world, most of them pleased and happy where they lived, sharing so much about their lives, which were so different from one another, yet in many ways, similar. We spoke about a love for a different country, a feeling of true love, about a connection to a different people. Most of the time, we spoke about the safety net that Israel provided us with, in case, well, you know…
I know that one day the current situation will be a distant dream, but nonetheless, I chose to remain anonymous because of my family’s request. It’s impossible to cover up an unexplained fear whose face cannot be exposed.
These lines are written by me, with honesty and love, a Jewish girl who loves Turkey and is in love with Israel. Despite my love for Turkey I have chosen to remain anonymous, in case, well, you know…
E. is a graduate of the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. AMHSI is the premier academic Israel experience for Diaspora youth to enhance their cultural identity and link to Israel