Friday, October 2, 2009

Exhibition to highlight Turkish-Jewish history

The rich, centuries-old history of Jewish life in Turkey will be told through an exhibition and lecture program during the month of October, sponsored by Georgia State University’s Middle East Institute, Department of Religious Studies, and Program in Jewish Studies.

"Under Vine and Fig Tree: 500 Years of Turkish Jewish History" will present images of significant relics and treasures from the Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews in Istanbul Oct. 12-23 on the third floor of the university's Student Center.

A significant period in Turkish Jewish history began during the late 15th century, when Spain expelled all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity. Ottoman Sultan Beyazid II invited Jews fleeing Spain to live in the Ottoman Empire, where they contributed to Turkish society and flourished.

“Jews actually rose to some very prominent positions in the Ottoman Empire, such as advisors and diplomats,” said Alta Schwartz, outreach director of the Middle East Institute.

Some of the images in the exhibit will include that of the decree of Sultan Abdülmecid I in the 19th century railing against the “blood libel” that incited anti-Semitic beliefs across Europe and led to atrocities against Jews, as well as a menorah shaped as a minaret.

“It’s very interesting to see something that is very Jewish, but with strong Turkish and Islamic symbolism,” Schwartz said.

The program includes a lecture at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at Congregation Or VeShalom, 1681 N. Druid Hills Road in Atlanta, where Catherine Lewis, associate professor of history and women’s studies at Kennesaw State University will explore Jewish contributions to Turkish society.

The lecture is free and open to the public, but interested persons should RSVP to Alta Schwartz at 404-413-6146 or

Other cosponsors of the exhibition include the Istanbul Center, the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, and the Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast.

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