Remembering Istanbul's synagogue attacks

On the 2nd anniversary of the terror attacks on synagogues in Turkey, Saral Nigri, 20, is moving on with her life.

turkey girl 88 (photo credit: )
turkey girl 88
(photo credit: )
On the second anniversary of the terror attacks on synagogues in Turkey, Saral Nigri, 20, is moving on with her life. A native of Istanbul, Nigri has chosen to write the next chapter of her life in Israel. She currently studies government and international relations at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, but the fateful day in November has left an indelible mark on her life. Nigri shared with The Jerusalem Post her experience of the al-Qaida attack in an effort to keep the memory of the victims alive. She remembers Saturday, November 15, 2003 as though it were yesterday. “It was my best friend’s brother’s bar mitzvah, and I was late to synagogue because I was having a problem with the clothes I was planning to wear,” Nigri remembers. The then-18-year-old made her way to the Neveh Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul. “I remember entering the women’s section, sitting down, and waving to the bar mitzvah boy. As he started to carry the Torah scroll around the synagogue for people to kiss, I felt a huge explosion.” A truck with 400 kilograms of explosives had detonated next to the synagogue. The structure of the synagogue itself was saved because of an exceptionally strong wall. “I was sitting in the upstairs section and everything started to fall down,” she said. “A huge crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, and individual bulbs started to fall one by one on the heads of the men below. Their heads were going red, and blood was pouring into their eyes and ears. Nobody understood what was going on. “People started to scream. Windows made up of Stars of David smashed onto the floor, and I remember having to step on a Star of David to get away. Once Nigri realized that she was uninjured, without so much as a scratch on her body, she made a decision. “I said to myself, ‘There was an attack, people are going to die, they are in shock and you have to be relaxed and help them.’ That’s how I got through it. The synagogue’s cleaning woman, who was not Jewish, walked up to me. Her whole body was just covered in blood. People were horrified and were running away, so I took her with me to the small hospital next to the synagogue.” The hospital was overcrowded with people who were in shock and crying. It was while she was waiting for the cleaning woman when Nigri heard the second blast at the other Istanbul synagogue. “My brother was the head of synagogue security in Istanbul at the time, so I was very worried about him,” she said. “Meanwhile, I saw an old man walking toward me, and I couldn’t see anything that was wrong with him. As he came closer, I could see that part of his head was missing. “I took the tallit he was holding in his hands and put it on his head, and I was asking him a lot of questions so that he wouldn’t lose consciousness. He just kept telling me not to leave him. The doctors then started to yell at me to leave the room. I left without getting the old man’s name, and I never found him. Later, the police told me that nobody died from a head injury, but I still don’t know what happened to him.” Nigri could not locate any of her friends. “After I left the hospital, I walked back to the synagogue. The entire street was destroyed, and it was so sad for me because my mom had grown up so happily on that street. Now there were dead people lying all over that same street.” She finally was able to contact her brother and he came to pick her up. “On the way home I listened to the radio and heard that 25 people were killed and another 150 were injured. “I can’t remember ever crying so much in my life. I just let myself go. I was hyperventilating; my brother had to slap me on my face to make me breathe. Once I got home to my family, I saw that my father was just white, pale, and shaking all over. “For the next five hours, I was in limbo. I didn’t know what happened to anyone. Then I got a call. A friend of mine who was guarding the synagogue died. He was the one who told the terrorists with the truck full of explosives that they could not park in front of the synagogue.” She made aliya in February 2004, less than four months after the attacks. “I was planning on making aliya before the bombing, but afterward I felt even more of a drive to move here. “I came to Israel and worked the fields at a kibbutz ulpan program for six months. That was the best time of my life. It was so beautiful to be together with Jewish people from Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary and Mexico, in Israel,” Nigri said. Nigri is happy with her decision to start a new life in Israel after the disaster in Turkey. “Israel is where I belong,” Nigri said. “Now that I am an Israeli, I have a new homeland, but it is more important than ever to always remember the people who died in the bombings.” Nigri wants to commemorate the second anniversary of the Istanbul tragedy in order to keep it on the minds of the international community.