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Turkey's main synagogue reopens a year after bomb

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Turkey's main synagogue reopens a year after bombing



Hundreds of Turkish Jews chanted hymns as a religious leader blew a shofar in reopening the country's main synagogue Monday, nearly a year after it was closed following a suicide attack.

Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva marked the reopening by carrying a Torah scroll into the Neveh Shalom synagogue, one of two bombed in a string of suicide attacks in November 2003 that killed more than 60 people in Istanbul and have been blamed on al-Qaida.

"I want to state here once again that I am fundamentally against the association of the terrorist attacks we suffered 11 months ago... with the name of a religion," Haleva said.

Turkey, with about 25,000 Jews, has one of the largest Jewish populations among Muslim countries. Many trace their roots to Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century and were welcomed by the Ottoman Empire.

The bombings aimed "to damage the peaceful social fabric of Turkish society and to upset and derail Turkey, a country with a Muslim population, a secular democratic state that has continued to develop its relations with Israel and USA, and aims to be part of the European Union," said Silvyo Ovadya, president of the Jewish community.

In a message read at the ceremony, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that the attacks "will never hurt Turkey's national unity."

Leon Esim, 51, who had been at a bar mitzva at Neveh Shalom at the time of the blast, welcomed the reopening.

"This is my second home," Esim said, with tears in his eyes. "Today is a very happy day."

The November attacks, however, have raised questions about the synagogue's future and the safety of the Jewish community.

Neveh Shalom also was targeted in two earlier attacks – a 1986 attack in which gunmen opened fire killing 22 people, and a 1992 bombing by the Iranian-backed Turkish Hizbullah organization in which no one was killed.mony, however, was considered the official reopening.

Foreign diplomats from Israel, the US, EU countries, a Turkish government minister, and Muslim and Christian religious leaders, including Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, also attended.

"This is a very happy and important day for us all," Emmanuel Nahshon, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy, said. "This proves that the terrorists lost."

Turkish officials have charged 69 suspected members of a Turkish al-Qaida cell in connection with the bombings at Neveh Shalom, the Beth Israel synagogue, the British Consulate, and a London-based bank.

Beth Israel reopened in December.


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