Author Archives: meyer

Jewish Heritage Month Capitol Hill Celebration Honors Morris Oiring


In celebration of Jewish Heritage Month, esteemed members of Congress gathered in May on Capitol Hill to honor and recognize the numerous contributions of the Jewish community to the United States. Attendees of the celebration engaged in a multitude of discussions and speeches that explore the diverse involvement of the Jewish Community in science, public service, law, medicine, and philanthropy.

This annual event, sponsored by US Senator Jacky Rosen and coordinated by Project Legacy, took place in the historic Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office building.

Jewish American Heritage Month Celebration is held yearly during the month of May, which has officially been proclaimed as Jewish American Heritage Month by the President.

This year, President Biden proclaimed, “This month, we celebrate the enduring heritage of Jewish Americans, whose values, culture, and contributions have shaped our character as a Nation. For generations, the story of the Jewish people — one of resilience, faith, and hope in the face of adversity, prejudice, and persecution — has been woven into the fabric of our Nation’s story. It has driven us forward in our ongoing march for justice, equality, and freedom as we recommit to upholding the principles of our Nation’s founding and realizing the promise of America for all Americans.”

Photo Credit: Lenchevsky Images

The ceremony focused on the achievements of Morris Oiring, the CEO of Pleet Homecare, which has revolutionized the healthcare industry and completely reinvented home care by reducing costs while improving the quality of care.

Morris Oiring embodies the breadth of Jewish contributions to American life. As someone who has been revolutionizing the delivery of healthcare to seniors for more than 13 years Morris Oiring’s care, compassion, and advocacy for each patient is what sets him apart from others in the field.

As the owner of Pleet Healthcare, Morris has dedicated his professional life to enhancing the way healthcare providers respond to the needs of patients and providing preventive care to ensure overall wellness. His forward thinking has resulted in improved access to quality care, reduced costs, and better patient experience.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, William Daroff, H.E. Murat Mercan Ambassador of Turkiye, Greg Rosenbaum, US Senator Jackie Rosen 9Speaking), Morris Oiring, Ezra Friedlander, H.E. Khazar Ibrahim Ambassador of Azerbaijan – Photo Credit: Lenchevsky Images

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee said it best within her speech during the ceremony stating, “It is most appropriate that we are honoring Morris Oiring. Healthcare may not be in the constitution, but it is a fundamental human right.”

In addition to his attributions to healthcare, Oiring also used his business savvy to invest in the hospitality industry by opening the first kosher hotel in Albany. This was a huge achievement with Albany having a large Jewish population of around 12-13,000 people. The Master of Ceremony, Greg Rosenbaum, received a standing ovation when he stated that Oriving “recently purchased a hotel in Albany New York, he’s refurbished it, and as a part of this refurbishment is that he is opening a full-service kosher restaurant.” This shows how significant this step is for the Jewish community and how important Morris Oiring is to the advancement of Jewish culture.

L-R: William Daroff, H.E. Murat Mercan Ambassador of Turkiye, Greg Rosenbaum, Malcolm Hoenlein, US Senator John Hickenlooper, US Senator Jackie Rosen, Morris Oiring, US Senator Tim Kaine, Ezra Friedlander, H.E. Khazar Ibrahim Ambassador of Azerbaijan, Chesky Blau, Brock Pierce, US Representative Troy Carter, Ryan Breslow-Photo and Video Credit: Lenchevsky Images

When Morris Oiring got to the podium, he made a comment that summed up why celebrations like these are so paramount, “My father always stressed that being a Jew is not always the easiest cause… like in certain parts of the country where there isn’t a lot of Jewish outreach.”

Numerous House Representatives attended including Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Representative Troy Carter, Representative Greg Landsman, Representative Jerry Nadler, Representative Kathy Manning, Representative Brad Schneider, and Representative Nicole Malliotakis. Remarks from the Senators included Senator Cory Booker, Senator Sherrod Brown, Senator Ben Cardin, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Senator John Hickenlooper, Senator Tim Kaine, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Senator Michael Bennet, Jon Ossoff, and Senator Jacky Rosen.

L-R: Morris Oiring, Rabbi Levi Shemtov – Photo and Video Credit: Lenchevsky Images

“This Jewish Heritage Month celebration represents not only the progress made by this community but the potential for everything to come and Morris Oiring is a perfect example of these achievements,” said Brock Pierce co-chair of the luncheon.

Ezra Friedlander, the Founder of Project Legacy and CEO of The Friedlander Group, commented on the significance of this celebration by stating, “Jewish Heritage celebration in the Congress is a reflection on how our government value and respect the diverse contributions of our community to the fabric of our nation–the very essence of the purpose behind Jewish Heritage Month.”

By The Friedlander Group

New York Jewish Guide

TEHORAH FEATURING ADRIENNE HAAN: A Concert Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Founding of the State of Israel


On May 10, 2023, at the Carnegie Hall concert in Weill Recital Hall, international chanteuse Adrienne Haan, one of Europe and America’s most electric concert and cabaret stars, presented a spectacular sold-out award-winning performance with her production of Tehorah under the patronage of Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan and Rabbi Arthur Schneider of Park East Synagogue to commemorate the State of Israel’s founding 75 years ago. With songs in German, Hebrew, and Yiddish performed with great heart and passion, Ms. Haan once again captivated New York with her great talent for the vintage cabaret repertoire from Weimar Berlin in the 1920s to the Promised Land.

The concert’s name, Tehorah, is a Hebrew word that means “pure,” which will help in promoting musical awareness. This musical journey explores themes of sadness, hope, love, and forgiving others, written exclusively by Jewish composers and librettists. Ms. Haan showed her extensive talent for the historic cabaret material and engaged us with her presence on stage with an excellent all-female Israeli orchestra.

Fans of popular Hebrew and Yiddish tunes were there, along with diplomatic dignitaries from Israel, Germany, Luxembourg, and Ukraine, among many others. Ms. Haan didn’t let us down. She has a strong, powerful voice with a big heart and was stunningly dressed in a red sequin jumpsuit and top hat, radiating a staged presence that is reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich.

Ms. Adrienne Haan and her orchestra, New York Jewish Travel Guide

The concert’s message, according to Ms. Haan, was one of “love and peace,” two aspects of her personality that effectively match the theme. In every language, she performs this style of music with perfect diction. Through modest, delicate changes in stance or use of her hands, Ms. Haan added tremendous variation to the many verses of the structured melodies, and her face is beautifully responsive even when she isn’t singing.

The Hebrew and Yiddish songs drew from a special well of mellow longing and nostalgic sadness that matched the minor-key lyricism of songs by contemporary Israeli folk singer Chava Alberstein, for instance, The Exclusive Garden and I Stand Beneath a Carob Tree.

Haan’s outstanding taste and charming stage presence made the event unquestionably a success. The audience was familiar with many of the songs and frequently sang along with her while they silently reminisced. Some people were even moved to tears. Haan took the time to speak about the present antisemitism crisis and the general turmoil in the world, asking us to keep in mind that the Holocaust could happen again and to be watchful, loving, and kind. The show ended with our beloved song Jerusalem of Gold, which brought the audience to their feet in a resounding standing ovation.

What a nostalgic and meaningful journey she invited us on as we commemorated Israel’s 75th year as a nation!

By Meyer Harroch for Orchestra Management.

New York Jewish Travel Guide

Discover the Jewish heritage and beauty of Lucerne


Lucerne is beyond picturesque; it’s quaint, quiet, and charming, waiting to be discovered. As a combination of nature and the city, there’s no shortage of things to do in Lucerne. When you add in its two local mountains, medieval houses covered in frescos and ancient wooden bridges, historical old towns, museums, art galleries, and monuments, to name a few, it really is a magical place to visit. You can go hiking on Mount Rigi or head to Mount Pilatus to see some of the best views you can find in Lucerne, one of the most beautiful cities in all of Switzerland.

Lucerne Old Town-New York Jewish Travel Guide

An Overview of Lucerne’s Jewish History

Jews have lived in Lucerne since the year 1300, over many periods and under subsequent cantonal and regional authorities. Beginning in 1800, the Lucerne Orthodox Jewish Community was founded and granted legal status. Jewish residents of Lucerne and the neighboring regions established the formal community in 1870. JGL, the Jewish Community of Lucerne, had only a small number of Jewish families in 1892, who together administered the community with members of various backgrounds. They maintained the synagogue, Mikveh, a Jewish school and a Jewish kindergarten, the local chazzan and choir, interest-free loans, Tzedakah, support for those in need and refugees, and the old and new cemeteries. JGL expanded over time and following the two world wars as Jewish families immigrated to Switzerland from other European nations and as Holocaust, survivors found refuge in Switzerland and the city of Lucerne.

The Synagogue and its Community in Lucerne

The community provides religious, educational, and other services (including a mikveh for men and women, a Jewish cemetery, Chevra Kadisha, a women’s organization, and a group who visit sick people, as well as shiurim (classes), Shabbat, and holiday celebrations.

Meir Shetrit, President of the Lucerne Synagogue-New York Jewish Travel Guide

Meir Shetrit, the president of the Lucerne Synagogue, told NYJTG. “This historic synagogue, the only one in Lucerne, was built in 1912 thanks in large part to the generosity of Mr. Joseph Croner, a traveler who visited the city at the turn of the century as a guest of one of its residents. He was so impressed by the community and its residents that he made a sizable donation to build a beautiful synagogue.”

The Lucerne Synagogue is undoubtedly one of Switzerland’s and Europe’s most beautiful and unique synagogues. In this old synagogue, there are over 200 seats for men and women. It is still the only synagogue in the world that has survived and kept its unique architectural style from a century ago.

Synagogue of Lucerne- New York Jewish Travel Guide

Since 2023, Mr. Shetrit and his wife have made Lucerne their permanent home. He is both an educator and an attorney who gives lectures on Judaism and religion. Mr. Shetrit told NYJTG, “Everything you see here is original; the only items that we changed were the carpet, a few lights, and the painting. Other than those three changes, nothing else has been altered.

 He describes the community as a “mixed community, religious and not religious, from Hasidim, Haredim, and everything else.” After the Holocaust, many Jews left the town, which led to a decline in its population. Some families immigrated to England, Israel, or Zurich. According to him, there are currently 50 Jewish families in the region, most of who don’t consider themselves religious and are either Swiss, Israeli or are the result of mixed marriages, which are common here. The Yeshiva of Lucerne helps and supports the synagogue in holding minyanim during each of the daily services and on Shabbat. About 14 full-time students from Israel and America study in this yeshiva, together with the rabbi who lives in Saint Louis, France. There are kosher mikvehs for women, and men, and separate mikvehs for ritually immersing dishes in the synagogue.  While there are no kosher restaurants, one can have a kosher meal at the nearby Yeshiva. “We have 20 to 25 guests for the Passover seder, and more are expected for the second half of the holidays,” he said.

 Because performing a Brit Milah was banned in 1860, this synagogue includes several unique and fascinating candles that are utilized throughout the ceremony. Observing the candles being lit alerted the congregation to wait for the Brit to be performed at the synagogue; today, Lucerne still lights these unique candles as part of the tradition.


Old Town

Walking through the maze of alleys and winding streets on the north side of the city is a must-do activity while in Lucerne since the old town itself is simply breathtaking. Due to the beautifully preserved historical architecture, visiting is like traveling back in time. Each street in the town is a picturesque setting given the abundance of half-timbered and traditional Alpine homes. Around every corner, you’ll find mom-and-pop stores, unique eateries, and hidden treasures.

Carnival Mural by Robert Ottiger in Lucerne, Switzerland-New York Jewish Travel Guide

Town Hall on Kornmarkt

As one of Switzerland’s most beautiful public buildings, they have designated this Renaissance monument a cultural monument. Its spectacular location equals it in every way: the area directly surrounding the Town Hall, which stands majestically by the river Reuss in the center of the Old Town, provides tourists with an abundance of attractions both during the day and in the evening.

 Ride the Cog Railway up Mount Rigi.

Riding the cog railway up Mount Rigi, also referred to as the Queen of the Mountains, to an elevation of 1,798 meters from the shores of Lake Lucerne is one of Switzerland’s iconic experiences. The oldest mountain cog railway in Europe, which has been in operation since 1871, will take you to the top. Ms. Caroline Pfyl, the representative of Rigi Bahnen, stated, “From the summit, visitors can indulge in 360-degree panoramic views of the lakes, mountains, German black forest, and an amazing variety of alpine flora.”

Lucerne Chapel Bridge-New York Jewish Travel Guide

 Chapel Bridge

A famous landmark in Lucerne is Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), the oldest covered bridge in Europe. A 1993 fire nearly completely damaged the wooden bridge, which spans 200 meters diagonally and was built in the 14th century as a part of the city fortifications. The 17th-century ceiling panels, which feature pictures from both Switzerland’s and Lucerne’s pasts, must be seen as part of the visit across the bridge. In addition to functioning as a jail and a place of torture, this structure has supported Switzerland in several other ways as well, such as serving as a municipal archive and a local treasury. The bridge and tower are among the most popular photographic sites in Switzerland.

Kapellplatz, Fritschibrunnen, Fritschi Fountain

Thanks to more than 200 fountains that continuously provide people with clean water to drink of the highest quality “There are over 200 fountains in the metropolitan area, and 166 of these are public,” said tour guide Ursula Leu, “and the water is regularly inspected and cleaned with ultraviolet rays to kill germs.” The lake at the foothills of Mount Pilatus is where the water is primarily collected. The 100-year-old Fritschi Fountain is one of the most popular fountains to see.

To plan a trip to Switzerland, contact Switzerland Tourism or go to

Fly SWISS at

Story by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel Guide, and New York Jewish

The author took part in a press trip sponsored by Switzerland Tourism.

Getting to Know the Jewish Community in Zurich, Switzerland


The New York Jewish Travel Guide sat down with Mendel Rosenfeld, Rabbi of the Zurich Chabad community, to ask a few questions about Jewish life and the community in Switzerland. The following interview was edited for clarity:

NYJTG: Thank you very much for your time, Rabbi. Could you briefly introduce yourself? How long have you been in Zurich, and why did you choose to come? In Zurich, how many Chabad centers are there?

The Lubavitch Rebbe sent me here when I arrived in 1982 to boost Jewish community activities, especially because many of the people were not participating, and to engage them more passionately in Jewish life. Despite the fact that I knew very little about Switzerland or the language spoken in Zurich, I immediately agreed. After settling in, I got to know the area and met a lot of lovely and hospitable people. And as the Chabad headquarters in Switzerland, we have been here for 42 years. I have established centers all around Switzerland by bringing Shlichim to locations in other cities. On the other side of Zurich’s lake is where my brother is the Chabad leader at the Chabad ESRA center, and also south of Zurich, we have opened a new center.

NYJTG: What is the Jewish culture and community like in Zurich? What are the demographics and the groups that make up the community?

The census claims that there are between 8,000 and 10,000 Jews in Zurich, although I’m not sure how accurate this is. Zurich has a number of sizable communities, but ICZ is the largest and has the most members. Two of the main communities are the Hasidic Agudat Achim community and the IRG German Jewish community. There are also various little minyanim every Shabbat. At least 20 different ones, mostly in districts two and three, are included in my count. As you might already be aware, Chabad does not see itself as an official community. Everyone is welcome since we see ourselves as an open home to all Jews.

NYJTG: How do the locals feel about Chabad and the Jewish community?

We don’t experience much antisemitism in Switzerland, and it’s likely a Swiss-inside sentiment. Still, since we get along well with the government here, I wouldn’t say that there are many anti-sentiments here. We feel safe and are not subjected to any intimidation or threats while residing in Switzerland. This is most likely one of the greatest and most pleasant places to live in all of Europe. It is a wonderful location to live in Europe, especially for families with young children, as there is less crime and services are reliable and timely. Of course, there are occasional instances, but I do not think it is any worse than elsewhere. In my opinion, things are more favorable and secure here than what’s going on in the other area.

Chabad Lubavitch Switzerland-New York Jewish Travel Guide


NYJTG: Do you host community-wide Pesach seders and Sabbath dinners? Are the services conducted in Hebrew and German, and how many people attend?

Depending on the need, different Chabad center types provide various services. Tourists use Chabad for food as well as additional necessities in tourist destinations. There are not a lot of tourists who demand these services during their stay in Zurich. For Shabbat dinners, we mostly work with the locals, and we set up the community seder for at least 200 locals. However, some tourists require Shabbat dinners, and I also had 20 guests staying at my home. But this place is not overrun with tourists. The goal of Chabad is to spread Judaism throughout the world, so tourists benefit from having Chabad locations nearby, thereby strengthening and connecting them to Judaism on Shabbat.

NYJTG: The number of Jews in Zurich: is it growing or decreasing? Are they moving to Israel or staying put? Do these numbers continue to hold steady? How many Jews live in Zurich?

According to official statistics, Switzerland has between 20,000 and 25,000 Jews. There used to be a large aliyah from here, and there is a significant number of Swiss Jews in Israel. But now I don’t think much of Aliyah. Many young people emigrated to Israel, but many of them also returned. I do not believe that the Aliyah caused the community to contract, so I would say that it has remained constant. We have observed an increase in new inhabitants over the past 15 to 20 years as a result of several marriages with individuals who reside abroad. It was more to themselves when I first came here 40 years ago, but now it’s open.

NYJTG: Is there a rise in the number of secular Swiss Jews who choose not to participate in organized Jewish life and instead intermarry or live with non-Jewish partners? And what proportion does this equal?

Although I don’t have much experience with it, I believe it to be similar to other places—I don’t know the exact ratio, but it is a significant percentage, perhaps between 40 and 50 percent. I understand that many intermarried individuals still want to participate in Jewish life; consequently, we allow non-Jewish partners to attend activities of the community.

NYJTGDo you have any non-Jewish visitors that are interested in coming here to learn more about Judaism and possibly convert?

Yes, there is, of course. Chabad does not perform the conversions; instead, we refer them to the official communities since Chabad stays out of this process. They have more individuals than they can handle and are unable to accept them all. It’s an intriguing phenomenon that many non-Jews are interested in converting. We occasionally receive it, but we don’t actively participate in conversions. We connect them with someone from the official community for more information if they are curious, want to investigate, and want to learn.

Ganon Eden Chabad-New York Jewish Travel Guide


NYJTG: Does Chabad have a kindergarten, elementary school, or daycare center? What number of students are there? And do they hold community events? Purim, Hanukkah, and Simcha Torah, for instance.

Although we have a Sunday school for families without religious affiliation and a school with roughly 50 pupils, Geneva unquestionably has the largest Chabad school. We offer a variety of events, such as challah bakes, and last week, for our first Purim, we invited 400 to 500 guests to a gathering that featured a circus performance and took place in a rented gym to accommodate the big crowd. We always light the menorah candle outside on the first night of Hanukkah, and this year we were thrilled to have the mayor of Zurich speak and attend the event.

We don’t dance in the street on Simcha Torah, but others from other communities and non-members join in on this happy festival that is filled with dancing and singing. We also arrange a Shabbat Dinner once a month at Hotel Belvoir in Ruschlikon for the local Jews to enjoy delectable food, a sense of community, and camaraderie. We provide catering for roughly 100 to 150 people, many of whom are Jewish ex-pats and foreign guests, and we teach Hebrew to all of the ex-pat kids at the Zurich International School.

NYJTG: How does Chabad connect and interact with other Jewish communities in terms of activities and events?

While we concentrate more on the overall Jewish population, other groups are more concerned with the activities of their members. However, we enjoy solid ties with the neighborhood. The Hasidic community is primarily concerned with Hasidic people, but that is not the audience that requires our input. It is a peaceful environment to get along with each other, and we have a wonderful rapport with the rabbis. One of the biggest events in Switzerland is one we host every two years. Our last event was a classical concert with a 100-piece symphony orchestra in the town hall. The goal is to unite, familiarize, and connect the Jewish communities in preparation for future initiatives.

NYJTG: Thank you for your valuable time and for all the information you shared with us. I appreciated it, as will our readers.

For more information:

To plan a trip to Switzerland, contact Switzerland Tourism or go to

Fly Swiss Airlines at

To contact Chabad Switzerland or to reserve a seat for a Shabbat dinner, email

Story by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel Guide, and New York Jewish

The author took part in a press trip sponsored by Switzerland Tourism.

BACH Partners with Long Beach Police to Bring Holiday Cheer to Elderly Celebrating Purim


In celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim, the BACH Jewish Center partnered with the Long Beach Police Department to bring joy and deliver holiday care packages to the elderly residents of the Grandell Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.

Rabbi Benny Berlin of the BACH Jewish Center, joined by Long Beach Police Lt. Brett Curtis and Officer Matt Scheer, visited with residents, distributing Mishloach Manot – care packages filled with holiday treats – and handwritten notes and pictures from the children of the BACH.

The routine of dropping off Purim treats has now become an annual tradition for the BACH, as this year marks the third in a row that the BACH has included the facility’s residents in their Purim celebrations, among other programs to help residents celebrate Jewish traditions and holidays throughout the year. This year’s Purim initiative, however, not only marked the first in-person Purim celebration they have shared post-pandemic but also included a partnership with the Long Beach Police Department.

“We’re extremely thankful to Rabbi Berlin and the BACH Jewish Center for inviting us to join them to create a memorable holiday celebration for some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Commissioner Ronald Walsh of the Long Beach Police Department. “Through initiatives like these, we are able to show Grandell residents that the police department and faith-based communities care about them and welcome them to our community.”

“The Jewish holiday of Purim is a time to spread happiness and holiday cheer, not just through giving gifts, but also through directly engaging with members of our community,” said Rabbi Berlin. “It was wonderful to stop by and have a chat with our friends and exchange some laughter and smiles, and I am so grateful to Commissioner Walsh, Lt. Curtis, Officer Scheer, and the entire Long Beach Police Department for joining us in this important holiday celebration.”

The collaboration comes on the heels of a separate joint initiative by the two organizations to drop off holiday toys to hospital-bound children in late December, a testament to the burgeoning relationship between the institutions.

Founded in 1946, Bachurei Chemed – BACH Jewish Center is one of Long Island’s most prestigious and oldest synagogues. Members hail from Long Beach, Lido, Atlantic Beach, and Island Park. For more information, please visit

New York Jewish Guide

Kosher Food and Wine Experience


After a 3 year absence because of COVID, the Royal Wine Corp. re-established their annual Kosher Food & Wine Experience at New York’s Chelsea Piers.

I have been writing about kosher wines for a number of years, and there is still quite a story to tell. There are numerous kosher and mevushal wines now in the world market, about 5,000 different ones, and they truly range from the sublime to the ridiculous!

Judaism and wine have been linked since time immemorial. Throughout history, wine has been at the center of ritual Jewish life and kosher wines accompany all ritual meals of the year. Kosher does not indicate anything about the quality in a wine; it is simply a certification that the wine within the bottle has been supervised and handled properly, to be used during Jewish religious observances. Grapes are always kosher when fresh, but wine production is complex and any additives used at any stage in production must be kosher for Passover.

Many wineries from countries with large Jewish populations produce kosher and/or mevushal wines.

While Israel is obviously the largest producer there are also kosher wines from France – a very large producer, the United States’ numerous AVAs, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and more recently Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand to name but a few of the kosher wine producing regions.

Present at the tasting were large producers, like Israel’s Carmel, Yarden, Yatir, and Barkan; medium-sized wineries such as Domaine du Castel in the Judean Hills, Rioja’s Bodegas Faustino and from Italy, two Super Tuscans, Villa Mangiacane Magnificus, and Tuscany’s Tiera di Seta. Plus exclusive French Chateaus such as Château Léoville Poyferré Saint Julien, Château Bellefont-Belcier, a Grand Cru Classé from Saint-Emilion and Château Lascombes Margaux; there were kosher bottles for every taste and every pocketbook from $6.99 to $500 for a current vintage!

At the tasting, the following impressed me enough to note:

Barons de Rothschild Haut-Médoc  $34.99 – A classic blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a high-quality dry kosher Bordeaux. I have tasted it in the past and its quality is always improving. The wine has spicy notes with rich fruit flavors. This bottle is full of dark, juicy cassis with a prominent note of fresh tobacco on the finish and approachable tannins. One of the few mevushal wines I happen to like and would drink it with pleasure.

Tabor Limited Edition – $59.99 – A highly-praised single vineyard from the upper Galilee produces this stellar Cabernet Sauvignon. It graces the wine lists of some of the country’s best restaurants. Full-bodied and well-balanced, it shows aromas of blackberries, black currants, and cassis with hints of caramel. It is a deep dark ruby red wine with cherry hues. Robust and velvety tannins contribute to the exceptional structure.

Psagot Sinai White – V – $24.99 – A refreshing, aromatic, elegant, and fruity blend, bursting with aromas and flavors of melon and pear. Various plots of the vineyard located in the hills of Binyamin overlooking Jerusalem were harvested at the optimal ripening stage and fermented separately; after fermentation, the wines were mixed into a white blend.

Shiloh Secret Reserve Petit Verdot – $49.99 – Often blended in Bordeaux wines to add structure and complexity, Petit Verdot shines in the Judean Hills as a standalone varietal. The grape clusters are hand-picked and carefully culled before dawn from the best vineyards in Israel. On the nose, there are lots of black forest fruits, spices, and ripe plums. Full-bodied with ripe black plums, cinnamon, and basil on the palate as well as ripe blackberries; it has medium acidity with sweet and chewy tannins. There is definitely sweet oak and dark chocolate on the long and rich finish.

Villa Mangiacane Magnificus – $59.99. In the heart of the winemaking region of Chianti Classico, Villa Mangiacane is a magnificent 15th-century property built by the Machiavelli family. It is a classic 50% Sangiovese, 50% Merlot, and Super Tuscan. This wine reveals layers of delicately fruity and savory flavors and aromas. On the nose aromas of black cherry, chocolate, and warm spices with a mineral ending. On the palate a medium level of tannins and a good level of acidity that has structure and balance.

Each year in February, the annual Kosher Food & Wine Experience takes place in New York City to showcase the better kosher producers of foods and wines and to determine which wines will grace America’s Passover Seder tables and which kosher restaurants prepare great dishes to be had for festive occasions. Another major annual event is Kosherfest which takes place in the Meadowlands in New Jersey every November. I attend both events to discover good-tasting wines and of course to try many of the Mittel-European foods that are associated with the Jewish culinary canon. Preparations from other parts of the world, such as sushi, that have become very popular and dietary acceptable by people that follow the kosher traditions were present, as were purveyors of traditional Jewish cooking and kosher steakhouse favorites.

 This year’s event was very well attended. I would say that at least 1500 or more individuals jammed the large space at pier 60 while I was there, and many more kept coming in keeping the space very crowded. I was at the event for the first 2 hours of the proceedings. Wine and spirits booths were at the periphery, while food purveyors and restaurants were mostly in the center double isles of two very large rooms.

Traditionally, the event has been a key influencer in determining which foods and wines will grace the East Coast’s Passover Seder tables.

Notable were: Wall Street Grill showing off Spicy Tuna and Spicy Salmon sushi, Guacamole with Sweet Soy Spicy Mayo, and Jalapeno; Thai Beef Bourbon Sriracha; General Kame Chicken with Teriyaki Glaze and Tabasco Aioli and sliced USDA Prime Ribeye. Marble & Grain showing Beef Nigiri with Wasabi Cream; Beef Carpaccio with Silan Molasses, Pistachio Dust, and Pink Salt; Tomahawk Ribeye Steaks with Horseradish Cream & Black Truffle Potatoes and other little and larger plates; Tuscanini (Tuscanini olives, Tuscanini sundried tomatoes and Calabrian peppers with lemon oil, Tuscanini chestnuts, Tuscanini extra virgin olive oil, and Tuscanini forest berry preserves, all imported from Italy. And Miele Gelato & Sorbet that was exhibiting 12 flavors of gelato, sorbet, and alcohol-flavored sorbet; among others.

Elegant Desserts were present with items that were Kosher for Passover. They had a full line of cheesecakes, Danishes, and quiches. They also presented pancakes, rugelach and cakes, and a full line of breads, and their gluten-free kosher for Passover french toast, cinnamon buns, crumb cakes, kokosh cake, and other products.

There were many great purveyors to discover in foods, wines, and spirits!

Story by The Staff and wine bottles photo Manos Angelakis
Additional photos courtesy of Royal Wine Corp.

Rediscovering the Jewish Heritage of Porto, Portugal


The contribution of Portuguese Jews to world history is enormous and its history is inseparable from the Jewish presence in Portugal between the 5th and the 15th centuries. In the northern region of the country are villages, cities, and small towns where important Jewish communities once thrived.  It would be hard to trace back the arrival of the first Jews in Porto as it is to trace back the foundation of the city. We know for sure during the High Medieval Ages that there were already Jews in Porto, close to the cathedral and inside the primitive walls of the city. Although Porto tolerated its Jewish community and even tried to protect it for many years, the expulsion of the Jews from the country following the infamous Inquisition completely destroyed its Jewish Heritage.

Porto is also Portugal’s second city, home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the country that was spared by the earthquake of 1755 that destroyed much of Lisbon but left Porto intact, including the streets of the former Jewish quarter, narrow streets, and balconied houses, with street names such as “Rua Monte Judeus,” “Escadinhas do Monte dos Judeus,” and Pátio das Escadinhas do Monte dos judeus.” The main synagogue stood on the Escadas da Vitória, a place still locally called “Escadas da Esnoga,” meaning “stairway to the synagogue.” There is a plaque that marks this site.

The Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Nearby, there is an ancient Jewish cemetery at Passeio das Virtudes.  It was there that the largest numbers of Conversos (also known as Marranos), descendants of Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition but secretly practicing Judaism, lived, and in the 1920s Porto was the center of a modest Jewish cultural revival under the leadership of an army captain, Arturo Carlos de Barros Bastos. Basto, a Converso, converted to Orthodox Judaism at the age of 33. He was known as the “Portuguese Dreyfus”  and was dismissed from the Army because he was a Jew. After leaving the Army, Captain Basto established a synagogue in Porto. As the synagogue grew he then moved into a new building donated by Elly Kadoorie, a wealthy Sephardic Jew. The “Kadoorie” synagogue was built on property bought and donated by Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Paris.  Basto established a Yeshiva in Porto, which ran for nine years educating more than 90 students. These activities did not go unnoticed by the government, especially after an estimated 10,000 families across Portugal admitted to practicing Judaism in secret. False charges were brought against the Captain and he was court-martialed, stripped of his rank, and forced to close the Yeshiva. The Marrano Renaissance was brought to an end. Bastos left behind a small community almost entirely descended from Conversos and the magnificent Kadoorie Synagogue, the largest active synagogue in Iberia.

Michael Rothwell, a member of the Porto Jewish Community board- New York Jewish Travel Guide

The Jewish community today                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Every Friday at the start of the Jewish Sabbath, positive murmuring sounds can be heard not only in Portuguese but also in English, French,  Spanish, and Hebrew, as the community is currently undergoing a rebirth of welcoming Jews who feel threatened in Europe and elsewhere.  Dr. Michael Rothwell, a board member of the Kadoorie Synagogue, told NYJTG, “The Jewish Community of Oporto is a community whose membership includes 300 members from all over the world that has been growing from the last three years of only 100 members. The religious Jews and the secular Jews of the Community work together.”  He noted that “the vast majority of members of our synagogue are either foreign-born or descendants of Europeans who came or Jews who came from other countries during the 20th century.

Our oldest member … his father came from Poland in the 40s and we have many families from Egypt, Turkey, France, and Israel and from many countries. The community comprises 22 different nationalities, “the largest being French and the fastest-growing Israeli,” and “we even have 100 French students from Marseilles studying at the University of Porto for dentistry.”

The Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue- New York Jewish Travel Guide

The Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue is the largest in the Iberian Peninsula with an impressive blend of Art Deco and Moroccan decor, carpeted inside with Azulejos tiles, and typical Portuguese tiles. Its Hebrew name, “Mekor Haim,” means “Source of Life,” while “Kadoorie” is the surname of Hong Kong-born Jews who donated the amount of money needed to complete the building, in honor of a deceased family member, Laura Kadoorie, who descended from Portuguese Jews. Her husband, Sir Elly Kadoorie, died in 1944 and is still the Honorary President of the Israeli Community of Oporto. Ilan Dahan, a member of the synagogue and chef and soon the owner of a new kosher restaurant, Casa de Hummus, told NYJTG, “We have a beautiful and very old synagogue, and we want to keep it like that. More than 80 percent of the synagogue is still original from 1938 … this synagogue survived World II and we want to keep it like this for many years ahead.” The congregation includes not only a prayer room but space reserved for studying, a library, a boardroom, a community dining room, a kitchen, a patio where a Sukkah is built for Sukkot, as well as apartments for the rabbi and the shamash ( a person who assists in the running of a synagogue or its religious services) of the community. There is a ping-pong table in the hallway that keeps young people occupied during Shabbat, as well as a museum on the first floor whose main purpose is to spread awareness of Jewish history and culture as well as the seven Noahide laws that apply to non-Jews; the museum is visited by visiting Portuguese students and non-Jewish tourists from all over the world.

There are a regular minyan and Kiddush every Sabbath. Even though this is not a neighborhood synagogue in the traditional sense, with many synagogue-goers living at a great distance, the synagogue maintains Orthodox practices. Rothwell added that while members include the Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform Jews, “we are open to the most religious and to the least religious because the least religious also do a lot of work for the community as each of them make their contributions in their way and that is our key to our success in working together.”

The Porto Rabbinate is recognized by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the Religious Committee is comprised of Orthodox members from Golders Green, London. There is a heated and renovated Mikveh that is in constant use at the synagogue. The Jewish Community of Porto has weekly Torah classes and there is a nursery for children up to 6 years of age, absolutely free of charge for community members on Sundays.

Unlike cities like Lisbon, a kosher infrastructure has started to take root in Porto. At this time, there is a hotel with a kosher restaurant, Hotel da Musica, as well as a kosher store and low-cost kosher meals available to community members under the supervision of the rabbi and the community’s mashgiach.  The products and ingredients used in the preparation of the meals meet the highest standards demanded by Jewish customers: for example, Chalav Yisrael milk, and glatt kosher meat. The Community maintains a Chevra Kadisha, has purchased graves in Israel to bury their dead, and recently acquired a new cemetery in Porto. Despite the apparent lack of anti-Semitism, the Synagogue has security guards at the door every day of the year. “Anti-Semitism is spreading throughout Europe but Porto seems to be a haven of peace: it’s good to be Jewish,” said Dahan. The community does not hesitate to advertise the city abroad and expects a sharp increase in the Jewish population in the coming years, mainly from France and Turkey.  He added: “Here I walk without any worry about wearing a kippa and sometimes people stop me to tell me, ‘we like the Jews.’”

The Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue – New York Jewish Travel Guide

A major law that came into effect in 2015, similar to a law in Spain, offers Sephardic Jews of Portuguese descent citizenship as compensation for expulsions and persecutions suffered by their ancestors at the end of the 15th century. Rothwell told NYJTG that while the community, which vets citizenship applications, has rejected many requests, “we have approved about 20,000 in the city of Porto.”  Seventy percent are Turks, while others are from Europe and the Middle East as well as from Asia and or South America.

In addition, Porto in its own right has become an increasingly popular tourist destination, attracting a record number of almost one and a half million tourists in 2017. The secret of this wealthy culture and artistic heritage is now known worldwide and the Historic Center of the City has been a World Heritage (UNESCO) since 1996. No wonder it was voted three times as the best European Destination.  Travelers will enjoy walking through the delightful sights of Porto. One could easily spend a full day of solid sightseeing here. If you have time, two or three days would be well spent there and will pass very quickly.

Some recommendations of places to visit and things to do in Porto:

Lello Bookshop – The Livraria Lello – The Harry Potter connection, a spectacular bookshop.

JK Rowling taught English in Porto back in the 1990s and was a regular at the Livraria Lello bookstore, which is one of the most famous shops in the city. Apparently, its decorative bookcases, carved wooden ceilings, and lavish staircases inspired the Hogwarts Library in her Harry Potter books.  Be warned that you’ll probably have to wait in line, there are that many visitors. Tickets cost 4€, to be deducted from any book purchase, and can be purchased from a red booth outside the store where you can also leave your bags.

Lello Bookshop – The Livraria Lello – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Fado bars

At the core of Portugal’s musical tradition is the distinctive song form, fado – literally meaning “fate” – which is predominantly slow, resigned, and melancholy in character. The music is lyrical, soulful, and accompanied by guitars –– the Spanish-style guitar known in Portuguese as viola and the Portuguese pear-shaped Guitarra. To catch a live performance drop into one of the country’s wonderful fado houses. I recommend a performance by live Fado singer Fernanda Moreira, not to be missed while visiting Porto; for information, contact or

Best Fado Show with Fernanda Moreira & Musicians- New York Jewish Travel Guide

São Bento Train Station

It’s been voted one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations. The outside is super-cool, in a Belle Epoque Parisian kind of way, but it’s the interiors that will really knock you out. The station lobby walls are covered with 20,000 decorative tiles, which took painter Jorge Colaço 11 years to complete, portraying scenes of Portuguese history, daily life, and transportation (for the trainspotters).

São Bento Train Station – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Stroll Along the Ribeira

Visiting Ribeira is an absolute must. This old city district located by the Douro has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. Yes, it’s swarming with tourists, but don’t let that put you off. Cross the river in a Rabelo boat, go wobbly looking at the Luíz I, D. Maria II, and Arrábida bridges (great backgrounds for dramatic photos), visit the Bacalhoeiros Wall, the Casa do Infante museum, the Rua da Reboleira, and Cubo square.

Ribeira – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Walk Across the Ponte Luis I Bridge

Probably one of the most iconic structures in Porto, not only does the Ponte Luis I bridge lend itself to the landscape, but it also allows for incredible views of both Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. You will want to go across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia, whether to visit the Port cellars or just take in stunning views of Porto itself. Porto, its many bridges, and its neighbor, Vila Nova de Gaia, offer up some stunning views. And this is one of the best places to see them. The Ribeirinha s a great promenade that takes you along the River Douro and past many cafes and restaurants. Start near the Sao Francisco Church, then head toward the river.

For more information:

To plan a trip to Portugal, contact Visit Portugal or log on to:

For more information about Jewish Tourism in Portugal, visit

Story & photography by Meyer Harroch – New York Jewish Travel Guide & New York Jewish

The author took part in a press trip sponsored by Visit Portugal.

Discover the Jewish Heritage, and The Historic Synagogues of Istanbul, Turkey


A Jewish community has existed in Turkey since the 4th century BCE, as archaeological findings have indicated Jewish settlement in the Aegean region such as in Sardis with ancient synagogue ruins, Miletus, Priene, and Bursa on the Mediterranean, Black Sea coasts. In 1492, Sultan Bayezid II offered refuge to the Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition; by 1535, approximately 56,000 Jews lived in Istanbul. The Jewish community in Turkey contributed to the economic, cultural, and political life during the times of the Ottoman Empire as well as the Turkish Republic after the War of Liberation, whose founding father was Kemal Ataturk.

Straddling both Europe and Asia, Istanbul has long been a destination for travelers. But beyond the cruise boats on the glistening channel, or the ancient markets further inland, lies a city famous for its rich heritage. Beautiful, magnificent, and immense, Istanbul is a city of splendor by its skyline marked by hundreds of minarets, impressive onion domes, and bell towers.

Istanbul is a popular destination for Jewish travelers, and its airport, one of the busiest in Europe, is often a transit point for other destinations. Istanbul Airport has a synagogue in its new international airport, with two small but cozy Jewish prayer rooms that were initiated by Turkish Airlines. These synagogues can be found in the regular and business class lounges.  Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, the Chabad emissary and Ashkenazi rabbi of Turkey, told NYTJG, “Turkish Airlines provides between 600 to 5,000 kosher meals every day and we provide the synagogues with the prayer books in both Ashkenazi and Sephardic so everyone who passes through the airport can pray.”  In addition, the airport has a kosher vending machine and even hot kosher meals are sold in some of the airport lounges. Turkish Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, has flights to 122 countries, including 10 daily flights between Tel Aviv and Istanbul.

Neve Shalom Synagogue – New York Jewish Travel Guide

With 16 synagogues open for worship today, synagogues in Istanbul have rectangular or square shapes, and most of them are made of wood and stone masonry. Most are in a courtyard or garden surrounded by a high wall. The Star of David motif can be seen on the entrances of courtyards.  For reasons of security, visitors seeking to gain access to the synagogue must apply in advance to the office of the Chief Rabbi in Istanbul. Synagogues are situated both on the European and Asiatic sides of the city.


The largest central Sephardic synagogue is Neve Shalom, meaning “Oasis of Peace,” which opened its doors on March 25, 1951. While it has witnessed many happy events and ceremonies for weddings and B’nai mitzvahs,  unfortunately, it is also known for some brutal attacks that have occurred. A memorial plaque is displayed with the inscribed names of the Jewish and Muslim victims in the lobby of two terrorist attacks in which 22 Jews and five security guards were killed in 1986 and 2003 during Shabbat prayers. The synagogue has preserved the bullet holes and bomb blast at the base of the black, wrought-iron railing around the bimah, with a seared marble panel left in the wall near the ark. Neve Shalom is the only synagogue on the Golden Horn that has an intact Jewish ritual bath (Mikveh).

Silvyo Ovadya, President of the Quincentennial Foundation, told NYJTG, “This stunning eight-ton chandelier hanging from the dome was sent by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on loan from the Buenos Aires Jewish community to show solidarity since they have also sustained brutal attacks over the years.”

The Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews is a gem and is the only Jewish Museum in Turkey. It explains how the Turkish Jewish Community was established and its contribution to Turkish society over the centuries. It also shows how open and accommodating previous rulers and governments were in Turkey to the Jewish people.

Silvyo Ovadya, President of the Quincentennial Foundation – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Mr. Ovadya added that the Museum has about 15,000 visitors per year and over 2,000 visitors per day for the European Day of Jewish Culture, which is celebrated on September 4 at Neve Shalom, with the motto of “the first Jews of Anatolia.” The event, which has been organized since 2001, he said, “for a better understanding of Jewry’s culture and lifestyle,”  is free and open to the public. It is aimed mainly at the local population and the participants have the chance to wander through the Turkish Jewish community’s culture and heritage, where they can experience concerts, documentaries, exhibitions, book presentations, and even delicacies from Turkish Jewish cuisine. One of the most popular events held is a Jewish wedding ceremony staged with all the traditions.

Nisya İşman Allovi, the director and curator of the Quincentennial Foundation Museum, told NYTJG, “Jews have been living in Turkey since the fourth century BC. Judaism is an ancient religion and culture, but it still has many unknown or misunderstood elements. With all these activities every year, we will overcome these prejudices, demystify the Jewish world, and promote understanding.”

In the same district, you will find the Galata Tower, one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks and tourist attractions, rising on the European side of the city. Jewish residents of the city have traditionally referred to the tower as La Kula, the Turkish word for tower adopted into the Judeo-Spanish or Ladino language spoken by older generations of Sephardic Jews. Today, the tower functions as a 360-degree viewing platform of Istanbul.

North of the Golden Horn is the historical Italian synagogue known as Kale de Los Frankos, which is only open for Shabbat services, although it can be visited on weekday mornings. It was established by the Italian-Jewish Community in the 19th century.  The front entrance highlights the Gothic-like facade and marble staircase while the exterior appeal is well preserved, with double hanging arches in the balcony prayer hall painted completely white and surrounded by the women’s gallery on the second floor. Today, the Italian community, which numbers only a few hundred congregants, continues to host music recitals, in which recent visitors had an opportunity to listen to performers at their rehearsals.

The Ahrida Synagogue – New York Jewish Travel Guide

In the Balat district, the Ahrida Synagogue is the most famous of Istanbul’s old synagogues; it was built in 1460 and named for its founders’ home village in Macedonia One of the remarkable features of the Ahrida is its Teva (Bima), which is in the shape of the prow of a ship. Local tradition says that it symbolizes either Noah’s Ark or the Ottoman ships which transported the Sephardim from Spain to Turkey. Its design is impressive and memorable. Two other buildings are in the garden, the Midrash and a heavy stone and brick structure, the old Adjara, which is now a hospice. The Ahrida was also known for being the synagogue where Sabbatai Zevi, founder of the Jewish Sabbatian movement, prayed. The synagogue was renovated in 1992 by the Quincentennial Foundation for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Sephardic Jews’ arrival to the Ottoman Empire


Several hundred feet from the Ahrida Synagogue stands the Yanbol Synagogue, which is one of the two remaining ancient synagogues preserved in Balat. Bearing the name of the small city in Bulgaria where the members of the founding community originated, the synagogue was rebuilt in the 18th century and restored several times subsequently. Illuminated by its numerous windows, the large hall is crowned by an elegant wooden ceiling decorated with oil paintings of landscapes and other floral motifs.  The Tevah in the middle of the hall faces Aron.  Today it is only open on major holidays and some Shabbat services due to the decline of the area’s Jewish population.

Just south of the Bosphorus Bridge is Kuzguncuk, an area more peaceful and quieter than other parts of the city and renowned for its colorful houses. Two synagogues here played an important part in the life of the Judeo-Spanish community in Istanbul: Bet Yaakov Synagogue, which was built in 1878 and is currently the only synagogue functioning, and Bet Nissim Synagogue, built in the 1840s.

Though the Kuzguncuk district is also known as Little Jerusalem, as it once had a large and active Jewish community, it now has few Jewish residents. The Bet Yaakov Synagogue is used only on holidays and special occasions and is open on Shabbat. . The earliest evidence of a Jewish presence in the neighborhood was a tombstone dated 1562.

Tombstone of Rabbi Naftali HaKohen Katz, Istanbul – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Haskoy is one of the oldest residential districts in Istanbul where Jews used to live and has one of the older, still-used Jewish cemeteries, with tombstones dating from the 15th century. There are nearly 22,000 graves and one of the renowned kabbalists Rabbi Naftali Hacohen Katz is buried there. Rabbi Raphael Benchimol of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation of Manhattan has written two volumes of biographies about this sage, with one volume highlighting many fascinating stories about his greatness and his ability to perform miracles. (The two-volume set is called Rabbi Naftali HaKohen Katz: His Life, Legacy, and Ethical Will and is available on

There was an ongoing dispute between Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews (who make up five percent of Turkish Jews) concerning burial sites in cemeteries.  An ad placed in the daily Shalom newspaper by the office of the Chief Rabbi stated that the Sephardic community was reserving burial places in Ashkenazi cemeteries and the Ashkenazim were doing the same in Sephardi cemeteries.  This was creating a  “big problem” for the community and The Chief Rabbi asked people reserving burial plots in the other’s cemeteries to consult him first. The Ashkenazi Foundation said that their “door is open to everyone.  The Sephardi cemeteries were running out of room. Until now, intermarried Sephardic and Ashkenazi are buried side by side either in the six Sephardic cemeteries or the one for Ashkenazi Jews.” Another large and older Jewish cemetery is the 650-year-old Nakkaştepe. The Beit Yaakov Synagogue Foundation is responsible for maintenance and burials.  The plaque denoting the names and the graves of revered tsadikim from the 14th and 15th centuries is displayed at the entrance.

For more information:

To plan a trip to Turkey, contact the Turkey Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA) or go to

Fly Turkish Airlines –

Ela Turizm –  Historical religious tours. –

Story & photography by Meyer Harroch – New York Jewish Travel Guide & New York  Jewish

The author took part in a press trip sponsored by the Turkey Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA)

Uncovering layers of history with the Izmir Jewish Heritage Project, Turkey


New York Jewish Travel Guide sat down with Mr. Nesim Bencoya, Cultural Heritage Project Manager to ask a few questions about The Izmir Jewish Heritage Project. The following interview was edited for clarity:

NYJTG:    Can you share your background with us? How did you get involved with the Izmir Project and for how long have you been working on it?  What are the Izmir Project’s objectives, significance, and background?  Why is it unknown to the Jewish world?

Nesim Bencoya: I was born in Izmir and after high school emigrated to Israel where I lived for forty years that included everything an Israeli goes through. In the last fifteen years, I was working at Haifa Cinematheque where I became the director.

Thirteen years ago, I came back to Izmir, and I was fascinated by the cultural heritage I met here. I was not aware of its existence even though I used to go to the synagogue with my father on high holidays. I immediately started to work on this project which means that I am involved in it for thirteen years.

There is a belief that Izmir Jewish Heritage Project is about restoring synagogues buildings. They should be restored and compose one big compound of synagogues each one will function as a section of a museum. We are talking about a visit center/open-air visitor’s site. This site will be the pride of the Izmir Jewish Community, the door through which the community will step into the decision-making processes in the city.  This means strengthening the Jewish Community that has lost long ago its power to influence socially and culturally. This is also the way to fight antisemitism. Briefly, Izmir Jewish Heritage Project is not only about telling history. It is a tool for us to influence and be relevant to the whole of Izmir society.

The reason for the Jewish Heritage not being known in the Jewish world lies in the attitude of the Jewish Community in Izmir throughout its history. For reasons we can understand or for others, the community preferred to live in low profile. This automatically makes you unseen, and unknown. This is a real pity as Jewish life in Izmir was very vivid and active. Hayim Palacci is still studied within the theological circles, and so are Shabbetai Zvi and others. Yes, this project – together with our restored synagogues should bring us back the recognition of the world. I hope we will manage to do it.

NYJTG:      Can you share a synopsis of the history of these synagogues and their conditions today? How many are there in total? Are most or all these synagogues of Sephardic heritage, i.e., Ladino for their traditions of religion and worship? Which organizations are supporting this project and what are some of the major challenges?

Nesim Bencoya:  Most of the synagogues are of Sephardic tradition. Since Jews from the Iberian Peninsula came in big numbers to the Ottoman Empire and possessed a very dominant culture the reality here was painted in Sephardic colors although Romaniote and Ashkenazi Jews were present here in small numbers.

A big immigration of Ashkenazi Jews arrived in Izmir by the end of the 19th century following the pogroms in Russia. We do have remnants of one synagogue that those immigrants used at the time they lived in Izmir.

In total, we have nine synagogues in the synagogue’s street area (First Juderia) and two more in Karatash (Second Juderia). They are all of Sephardic heritage; they use Hebrew and Ladino for worship.

Izmir Jewish Heritage Project is supported by European Union at present for a period of three years. We restored Bet Hillel with the support of the Metropolitan Municipality, and The Etz Hayim restoration was done with the finance of the Turkish Government, with support from the German Republic that helped us rescue Talmud Tora and Forasteros synagogues.

NYJTG:      Why are these synagogues adjacent to each other and why did this specific configuration exist with passages that connected them? Which synagogues are open for religious services only and which ones serve as social and cultural activity centers? What are some of the characteristics these synagogues all have in common?

Nesim Bencoya:  The reason is that this was the port, the commercial area, and the businessmen probably preferred to be close to the port and the customs and settled in this area. They also bought land and built their houses here.  Therefore, there were in this spot people with means who could donate land for building synagogues. For example, the La Senyora synagogue’s land was donated to the community in 1664 by a wealthy widow called Lea,  the Algazi synagogue was built by the influential Algazi family.

The Algazi, Shalom, and Bikur Holim synagogues are open for religious services. The other six synagogues are functioning for cultural and artistic purposes.: Bet Hillel is a memorial house for Rabbi Hayim Palacci,  the Portugal synagogue functions as a conference center, and Etz Hayim has an art gallery and functions as a culture and art hub, as does Talmud Tora and Senyora.

All synagogues have had a common characteristic regarding the Teva (Bimah). Izmir synagogues all had their Teva in the center of the main prayer hall. This has been modified during their history because of various cultural influences.

Mr. Nesim Bencoya, Cultural Heritage Project Manager – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Another typical İzmir characteristic is the Ehal which is composed of 3 cupboards. All Izmir synagogues except Bet Israel have this common trait. The reason for this might be the early synagogues of Spain.

NYJTG:     Can you shed some light on how the Bikur Holim Synagogue basement was once the Bet Din prison?

Nesim Bencoya:  This is not a documented fact.  We know that people were arrested for various reasons such as being drunkards, thieves, and treachery as well as others in times of social unrest in the community because of the Kosher wine and meat taxes. We might think that the prison was there because of its vicinity to Chief Rabbinate where the Bet Din was located.

NYJTG:     Do you hope that a few of these synagogues will be assigned UNESCO status soon?

Nesim Bencoya: I am a consultant (on behalf of the Jewish Community) to the UNESCO team that is trying to get the market area a UNESCO status. For this purpose, a dossier is being prepared. The old Jewish quarter with its synagogues is a very strong factor in the application that is being prepared and I am of course pushing hard.

NYJTG:    Is the Gurcesme Jewish Cemetery part of the Izmir Project renovation? Which other projects are you working on?

Nesim Bencoya: Unfortunately, the historical Jewish Cemetery of Gurcesme does not make a part of the Izmir Jewish Heritage Project due to a lack of both financial and manpower resources. It could easily turn into a museum by itself. I hope that as soon as we finish our immediate missions we will seriously think about the cemetery.

NYJTG:  Were there any Jewish schools or Yeshivas for boys and girls that existed in the district?

Nesim Bencoya: There were many Jewish schools and Yeshivas in Izmir such as Talmud Tora Yeshiva, Alliance, and Bnei Brit schools for boys and girls.

NYJTG:    Are you producing any film documentaries on the Izmir project?

Nesim Bencoya: Yes, this is the link to the last documentary we shot:

NYJTG:  What are your vision and dreams for this ongoing project upon its completion and the impact on the Izmir economy in terms of potential international visitors?

Nesim Bencoya: Thanks to the publications from the press and the work we are doing in social media we already see an increase in visitor numbers. We are very happy to see that our effort is producing results. We see here visitors from Mexico and Argentina, from USA and Canada, European countries, etc.

We need this for a sustainable Visitor Center, and I have a strong belief that we are going to succeed.

NYJTG: As a follow-up, your strong determination, desire, and hard work are to replicate Izmir’s destination as a Jewish Cultural Festival Center similar to the Krakow Jewish Festival in Poland with its main goal here to educate and have others experience the unique culture of Sephardic Jews of Izmir Jewish Heritage by organizing concerts, exhibitions, plays, and lectures

Nesim Bencoya: This festival is making so much good. This year we will hold the fourth one and it is really embraced by many people Jews or not. This makes a good service for intercultural dialogue between cultures, for us to express ourselves as Jews and see that when people get to know our cultural prejudices start disappearing. Although this sounds very serious, it is a lot of fun as well.

NYJTG:   How can our readers contribute directly or indirectly to the restoration and conservation of this project?  

Nesim Bencoya: No need to say that we need any help we can get. We would be very happy to get any support little or big.

We have established a fund with the help of the American Sephardi Federation and donations are tax-deductible. Here is a link to make donations:

NYJTG: Thank you for your valuable time and for all the information you shared with us. I really appreciated it, as will our readers.


For more information: 

To plan a trip to Turkey, contact the Turkey Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA) or go to

Fly Turkish Airlines –

Ela Turizm – Historical religious tours. –

Story & photography by Meyer Harroch – New York Jewish Travel Guide & New York  Jewish

The author took part in a press trip sponsored by the Turkey Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA)


Rediscover Modern-Day Jewish Life in Istanbul, Turkey


The history of the Turkish Jews can be traced back to the 15th century when most of the Jewish population migrated from Western Europe during the Spanish inquisition in 1478 and its Jewish presence in the region goes back much further. The Ottoman Sultan of the time invited the Sephardic Jews to the Ottoman Empire settling in the eastern Mediterranean in major urban centers such as Istanbul, Smyrna, and Salonica. These Sephardic Jews established significant communities and greatly influenced local culture and society while maintaining their own cultural traditions, such as the use of the Ladino language since then it has been an integral part of Turkey’s cultural history.

In modern times after the Republic, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Turkey again opened its homes and universities to Jews who had fled from Nazi oppression and persecution. In 1933 Kemal Ataturk, the Founder of the Turkish Republic invited many university professors of Jewish origin who were threatened by the Nazi regime. At the beginning of the 19th Century, Turkey was home to more than 150,000 Jews. Today there is a small but strong Jewish community, mainly settled in Istanbul, İzmir, and a few other cities in Turkey.

Ortakoy Etz Ahayim Synagogue – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Jewish Life in Istanbul Today

Istanbul has a vibrant Jewish community with a total population is around 16,000 – the second largest Jewish community in a Muslim country, ( Iran is the first), with a great majority of 14,000 living in Istanbul. In Izmir, there are less than 1,000, 50-60 in Bursa, 20-30 in Adana, and 30-40 in Antakya: very small numbers live in other cities. In 1992 the community celebrated the 500th anniversary of its existence since the Spring of 1492 when they came to Istanbul. The community is 97 percent of Sephardic origin and three percent are of Ashkenazim origin. There are also less than 100 Karaites living in Turkey, but they are generally not considered a part of the Jewish community and don’t take any part in its activities.                             


There have been some demographic changes in where the Jewish population lived in Istanbul before the 1970s they mostly lived within walking distance from each other while today they most reside in the suburbs and further away from the city center. In the 1970s, most of the women in the community were housewives, but today like in so many communities most work outside of the home. Some statistics show that 75 percent of the Jewish population lives on the European side and 25 percent on the Asian side of Istanbul. The structure of the family is mostly “nuclear” today, consisting of parents and children. Jewish social life seems to be limited to Shabbat dinners and Jewish festivals when most of the family members get together.

Beth Yaakov Synagogue – New York Jewish Travel Guide

According to data from the Chief Rabbinate, concerning the age distribution of the Turkish Jewish population,, fifty percent of the population is between the ages of 25  and 55. Longevity has increased due to a healthier diet, more exercise, and better medical care. People over the age of 65 constitute 18 percent of the population. At the same time, there has been a decrease in people younger than 25 (a decrease of nine percent in the last five years). Death and emigration rates are much higher than birth rates.


Istanbul’s Jews speak Turkish among themselves, even though most are fluent in French. Only the very elderly remember Ladino, the old language in which the Jewish weekly 16-page Salom was written now in Turkish, and with a (circulation of 4,000) it still dedicates one or two pages to Ladino in each issue. Like most newspapers today, Salom can also be accessed on the internet. The number of kosher restaurants can be counted on one hand, however, and the only one left open today Caffe Eden, is located in the picturesque neighborhood of Ortakoy.

There are several charitable institutions that help the elderly, orphans, and individuals with disabilities. Many volunteers work at these institutions to raise funds. Two Jewish hospitals, the 98-bed Or-Chayim in Istanbul and the 22-bed Karata’s Hospital in Izmir serve the community. Both cities have homes for the aged and several welfare associations to assist the poor, sick, needy children, and orphans.

Balat Or-Ahayim Hastanesi Jewish Hospital – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Balat Or-Ahayim Hastanesi Jewish Community Hospital in Balat was built in 1897 with both local and foreign donations. This district is where Jews settled after their expulsion from Spain. The community is also called ‘Yahudi Hastanesi’ (Jewish Hospital) 120-bed is owned and operated by a Jewish foundation, and is still operating today. There is a small synagogue inside the hospital named after the Kadoori family from Iraq who had donated generously to the building of the hospital.  Though originally built by and for the Jews, today it serves a predominantly non-Jewish population.

The Turkish Jewish community places major importance on education.  The community Jewish school is the Ulus Jewish School, a program that starts from pre-school and continues through high school. The school has a 600-student population today and begins teaching Hebrew starting from first grade. According to data from the Chief Rabbinate, there is no illiteracy among the Jews. Six percent of the Jewish population is made up of primary-school graduates, 26 percent of middle-school graduates, 45 percent of high-school graduates, 29 percent of university graduates, and 4 percent of individuals with post-graduate degrees.

Today Turkish is the main language of the Sephardic home. English and Spanish are also popular and 5 percent of Turkish Jews speak more than one language including Spanish.

Büyükada Island – Istanbul – Turkey – New York Jewish Travel Guide

The population is more dispersed in the summer with many Jewish families running into each other at Buyukada, a traditional vacation spot on the largest of the Princess Islands in the Sea of Marmara. Successful merchants, businessmen, and doctors, Istanbul’s Jews leave their Jewish quarter of Balat, Hasköy, Kuzgunçuk (on the Asian side), and even the European old town next to Galata and Beyoglu to settle in these new residential neighborhoods for the summer season.

Looking back on Jewish life all the way back from the Ottoman Empire to its current time,  visitors learned that Sephardic Jews were forced to flee Spain, and created a brand-new life for themselves in order to survive. In Turkey, they found a way to honor the old and create a rich new Turkish Sephardic culture.

Jews continue to coexist happily and peacefully in Turkey making this corner of the world filled with a treasured heritage ripe for exploration and enjoyment.

For more information, visit:

To plan a trip to Turkey, contact the Turkey Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA) or log on to

Fly Turkish Airlines –

Ela Turizm –  Historical religious tours. –

Story & photography by Meyer Harroch – New York Jewish Travel Guide & New York  Jewish

The author took part in a press trip sponsored by the Turkey Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA)