The Zülfaris Synagogue
The Jewish Museum of Turkey exists as a cultural centre of expression for the history and the traditions of Turkish Jewry. The building was established in 2001 by the Quincentennial Foundation, also known as 500: Yıl Vakfı. However, it seems that the building itself, previously known as the Zülfaris Synagogue, existed as far back as 1671.
Turkish Jews and Muslims who wanted to make a difference established the Quincentennial Foundation in 1989. Embarking on a very ambitious program, the Foundation aimed to bring the rich legacy of people who were both Turkish and Jewish to a wider audience, and to build a strong community.
The newly established building was built over the original foundations of the Synagogue in the 19th Century. A series of activities had led up to this moment, including some memorable and important occasions. For example, in 1882 was when Samuel Malki donated the stunning marble frame that now surrounds to Ark, otherwise known as the Ehal.
In 1856, a ceremony was held in the Synagogue in order to commemorate the French Army’s Jewish soldiers, who fought the Russians in the war of Crimea, falling alongside the Ottomans. The ceremony was attended by a military unit commanded at the time by Staff Colonel Garbi Bey.
By 1890 repair work had started, with the financial help of the Camondo family. By 1904, the Jewish Community of Galata was instrumental in restoration work, ensuring the building was fixed to the best of their abilities, presided over by Jak Bey de Leon restoration.
As the years went by, the building went through a number of considerable and significant repairs up until 1979, when it was appointed as a place of worship for the Jewish people of Thracian origin (a group of Indo-European tribes).
Jewish people from all around the area frequented the Zülfaris Synagogue, deepening their own culture and socializing with those within the community. Sadly, in 1983 the last wedding was held at the Synagogue, prior to it closing down. Around this period, it is suggested that many Jews were moving away from the area.
Luckily in November 2001, the place was able to open its doors as a museum, known as The Jewish Museum of Turkey. With the financial help and backing of the Kahmi family, largely amounting from the contributions of Mr. Jak Kamhi. Another key player who made it all possible was Mr. Naim Avigdor Güleryüz, the president of the Quincentennial Foundation. It was his enthusiasm, dedication and vision that helped the museum become what it was.
The Zülfaris Synagogue is around 6km from the Ayasofya Hotel and is a quick tram ride away from hundreds of other hotels in Istanbul.