Oof Ya

I apologize (yet again) for my lack of recent posting. There has certainly been enough to talk about. Perhaps that was the problem–too many distractions. Well I would like to update you on the past couple of months and I suppose the best place to start would be March. I apologize in advance if my next few posts seem rushed as I’m trying to catch up.

Ok, March. the biggest adventure of March was Passover. My goodness, what an ordeal.

When I first moved to Turkey, I was unsure of the level of anti-Semitism, so I was careful with what I said or did. But as I became more comfortable and opened up to people, I received nothing but acceptance and support. So far I haven’t experienced any more problems than I did living in the South. A friend of a coworker even lended me a menorah for Channukah and there are plenty of other teachers who take off for holidays, which leads me to Passover. I decided that this would be my first venture into a foreign synagogue. I looked up temples online and found a couple on the Asian side, but when I called to find out service times, my limited Turkish was about as helpful as the other person’s limited English. After finding someone to help me translate (I was at least able to provide the Turkish word for Passover; apparently they also just say Pesach), I was told that I needed to fax all my information to the high rabbi of Istanbul.

Apparently there were bombings at a couple temples years back, so they are very serious about the security. That made me feel both safer and more nervous at the same time, but I went ahead anyway. I sent in a copy of my passport, address, phone number, and which temple I wanted to go to. Then the one lady in all of the Istanbul temple workers  who could speak English called me back to let me know I’d been approved. I talked to the same woman who lent me the menorah and asked her how conservatively I should dress. She told me that what I was wearing at the time (a short-sleeved dress and boots) would be fine. So I asked off work, washed that exact outfit, made sure to write down the address of the temple, and had my roommate order a taxi for the morning.

I woke up very nervous and excited (perhaps anxious would be a better word?). I dressed in my dress, boots, and a cardigan and made sure to grab a scarf in case I’d need to cover my head. I then met the cab driver outside the apartment and I was on my way. The cab driver was chatty (they’re usually very chatty or very impatient) and I spoke what I could with him, but was trying to pay attention to where we were going. I was only vaguley familiar with the area. He turned off the main road and we started to pass a lot of apartment buildings. I looked at the address again–this was the street where the synagogue was, so I started matching the numbers. Finally, he pulled up across from number 3, which was the correct address, but it was an apartment building. I looked desperately at the sheet again and back at him. He pointed to the sheet and explained that this was number three. This was  where I’d asked to go. I wanted to tell him, “well, yes, I can see that, but this isn’t where I want to go.” Instead, I just said thank you, paid him, and stepped out of the car. We were close to an intersection, so I walked to the corner and checked the street signs. Again, this was where I was supposed to be. Service started in 20 minutes and I had no idea where the temple was. I walked back to number three, but it was still just an apartment building. I was Harry looking for 9 3/4.

So I called my roommate. She tried to help, but the address she looked up was the same I had and she needed to go to work. So I decided to use my Turkish to try to ask for directions. I probably asked about five people. They each seemed to know what I was talking about and all pointed me back in the direction from which I’d come. It was frustrating not being able to tell them that I’d already been there and there was, in fact, no synagogue. They could obviously see the confusion on my face and always started talking more and faster, which was no help at all. So I just (again) thanked them and walked away. Finally I called my friend from work. I explained the situation and she said to go into the apartments. After the bombings, a lot of synagogues made it harder for people to find them, so it was quite possible that I was actually in the right place. So I went inside with her still on the phone. A guard came up to greet me and I understood “Kim,” which means who. So I thought he was asking who I was. I showed him my passport (as I was told I would have to do) and he took me to an elevator and up to an apartment room. The whole time I’m on the phone, narrating, and inwardly wondering how small this synagogue must be. The guard knocked a few times and said something to me. I nodded. A woman answered the door in her robe and I knew that we’d had a miscommunication. I handed him the phone, resigned that I was failing at communicating.

It turns out that he thought I was looking for the other foreigner in the building. My friend explained the situation to him and he also tried to tell me where it was, but even my friend didn’t understand. She called the synagogue and called me back. Apparently, thank you Google, the online adress was wrong. I was off by about 30 and needed to walk further down the road. She said that the guard at the synagogue was now expecting me and would be outside the security box waiting for me. I thanked the guard at the apartment building and again walked down the street. I saw the white security box and nervously went up to the man standing next to it.

“Synagogue?”

“Amerika?”

“Evet.”

“Pasaport?”

Thank God. I handed him my passport and he smiled. He spoke into a little microphone and another guard came out to escort me. At this point I still did not see a synagogue. And at this point, service has already started. The new guard led me past an apartment building and through a locked fence. He opened another locked door and I went into a hallway. (Mind you, I still have no idea what the outside of this place looks like. It was behind buildings and shrubbery.) I then had to go through a metal detector before we were buzzed through another door at the end of the hallway. Once through the door, it beautiful. Huge, marble, bright, colorful, and full of singing. I followed the guard, but wasn’t really paying attention to him. I was taking in my surroundings, happy that I’d finally made it. We walked toward the back of the building where he talked to an older man and pointed to me. The man then led me to a staircase, which brought me back to reality. This could not possibly be a staircase to…

A women’s section.

When I reached the top of the stairs, there was only one other woman–an elderly lady. She was sitting right in front of what appeared to be a balcony looking down on all the men. I was suddenly much more conscious of my skirt with no leggings or hose. I buttoned my dress up all the way, took my scarf off my neck, loosely wrapped it around my head, and sat down next to the woman. She smiled at me and wished my happy Passover. I smiled back and wished her the same. I managed to find a prayer-book, but had no idea what page we were on. My Hebrew is about as good as my Turkish and while I can recognize and recite prayers when I hear them, I certainly can’t read them or the Turkish transliterations. I looked down into what I like to call the “man pit” and watched as the men moved freely, greeting each other, kissing both cheeks, adjusting their shawls. A few more women trickled in over the next few hours and we just watched as the men sang, stood, sat, kissed the Torah. All things I was used to doing, not viewing.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I had during this experience. It was nice to hear familiar prayers and songs (even if the melodies weren’t the same). It was nice to be with other Jewish people, excuse me, women, even if we couldn’t really speak to each other. And it was nice to be in a place of worship on a holiday. But I was removed and upset and fighting these feelings the whole time. I was not really allowed to participate and I resented it. I didn’t feel free or comfortable. I felt frustrated that I couldn’t celebrate the way I wanted to and as much as I shouldn’t have, I felt sorry for the other women there. They were all modern looking women. Some didn’t even cover their heads while they were there. But I would hate to teach my daughters that they need to be seperated from what’s going on and I fully disagreed, but I knew it wasn’t my place to do so.  After all the work I put in to get there, I was too distracted and distraught to enjoy it. I made it three hours before I left.

I don’t think I will do it again, but I can say that I appreciate the experience. I was hoping for something familiar, but I have never been so out of my element.

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