|GAZIANTEP: NOVEMBER 3, 1996
…Often, we would be escorted and overwhelmed by scores of kids following us around, wondering what on earth we are up to, and of course offering to help…. Perhaps today was the most extreme, here in Gaziantep.
Joseph (in Adana) had given us the name of a friend of his who lives here; she is a food journalist who speaks fluent English - a very proud Turkish woman. She had us for dinner, among the best meals we have eaten since we arrived five weeks ago.
It turns out that she had grown up in the Jewish Quarter, in a house with windows looking into the synagogue (not uncommon as all of the houses were once Jewish-owned). She took us to the site in the older part of Gaziantep. After tracking down all sorts of leads trying to find a key, we, we were finally allowed in by a young man who happened to be son of the religious authority, who had jurisdiction over the property. It was probably the first time anyone had entered this property in years.
He let us into the site, and of course, his privileged friends. By then, dozens of others had gathered outside the walls of the courtyard. Not many foreigners make it this far into Turkey (Gaziantep is fairly far east in Turkey in a zone that many consider dangerous) and it must have puzzled the people of this small town when a white minivan full of people and equipment pulled up to this derelict building.
The first thing that struck me about this synagogue was its size. The courtyard stretched between two streets and the synagogue itself must have accommodated hundreds. Although most had collapsed, enough remained for us to reconstruct what the synagogue must have been. We spent the better part of the day working here.
In the mean time, we had about a dozen kids surrounding us. Some were helping hold the other end of the tape measures that Ceren and I were using. Others were eyeing the photographic equipment. None could possibly understand why we were there, yet all were helpful and smiling.
At the end, we swapped addresses and drove off. I turned around to see, behind us and fully occupying the width of the narrow dusty street, dozens of kids all waving to us and wishing us good luck in our travels.
What sticks with me most was the young man who had let us into the synagogue (the son of the religious authority). He is proud of this synagogue and the fact that it is still standing. In fact, he showed me, a certain stone Hebrew plaque had fallen down and had been glued back up. (I did not have the heart to tell him they had reattached it upside down.)
Before we left, we gave out a few cassettes and pens. I thanked the young man profusely. He implored me, as we were leaving, to be sure to tell everyone in America that Turks are good people - hospitable, good-hearted and kind to strangers. He seemed to think that most westerners look down on Turks and it was very important to him that we do not think poorly of his people. He repeated his message a few times.