Jewish earthquake survivors in Turkey flown to safety

The earthquake that struck Turkey has racked up a death toll of over 35,000. Included in that number are members of Antakya's Jewish community.

 Seho Uyan, who survived a deadly earthquake, but lost his four relatives, sits in front of a collapsed building in Adiyaman, Turkey February 11, 2023. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Seho Uyan, who survived a deadly earthquake, but lost his four relatives, sits in front of a collapsed building in Adiyaman, Turkey February 11, 2023.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Earthquake-affected Jews from Antakya, Turkey were flown to Istanbul to escape the destruction and provided clothing and food, according to a press release on Thursday.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) accounted for 36,187 dead as a result of the earthquake that ravaged the southern region of the country. Among those killed by the disaster was the head of Antakya's Jewish community, Saul Cenudioglu, and his wife, Fortuna.

Israeli rescue workers found the pair in the rubble of their home after hours of effort to free them from the wreckage.

Those in the area who were spared still lost their homes and possessions. Additionally, among the consequences of the quake were disruptions to access to basic necessities such as clean water. As a result, many have been unable to clean or relieve themselves in sanitary conditions. Many Turks are now consequently left vulnerable to infection and diseases.

Fortunately, members of eight of the razed community's Jewish families were able to be flown to Istanbul to find relief from the conditions in Antakya.

 View of Antakya before the earthquake (credit: Wikimedia Commons) View of Antakya before the earthquake (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

"The operation was made possible thanks to the cooperation of Istanbul’s Jewish community (TJC), and Keren Hayesod donors, among them Israeli businessman and philanthropist Alexander Machkevitch," the press release states.

"Even in the most difficult days following the disaster, members of Turkey’s Jewish community discovered a unity which has characterized the Jewish people throughout the generations,” Machkevitch remarked.

“I am honored to take part in this joint effort with Keren Hayesod to help our fellow Jews from Antakya, and hopefully give them an opportunity to rise from the ruins to rebuild their families and restore community life. Our hearts are with the Turkish people during this difficult time, with hope for a full recovery for the wounded and rebuilding of the area.”

While the aid will get the families through some months in Istanbul, they will not ever be able to return to their homes. Still, thanks to the donations they will be able to escape the pain that many others are, and unfortunately will continue to endure.

History of the Antakya Jewish Community

While the Jewish community of Antakya dates back two and a half millennia, over the years, the community's numbers have dwindled. When Rabbi Mendy Chitrik visited the community in 2021, fewer than 20 Jews were left from a community that, merely 80 years ago, stood at roughly 350 members.

Additionally, Antakya's 250-year-old synagogue also suffered damage from the quake. It, however, as opposed to many other buildings in the area, is still standing. As a result, the synagogue's Torah scrolls were able to be recovered.

“Keren Hayesod continues to work tirelessly around the world, providing help and assistance wherever and whenever it is needed, fulfilling a key part of our mission to act as a bridge that connects Israel with Jewish communities in the Diaspora," added Sam Grundwerg, the Global Chairman of Keren Hayesod. "We saw this as part of the mobilization for Jews in Ukraine, and in renewing the Aliyah from Ethiopia, and we can see it now as well.”