THE ITALIAN SYNAGOGUE - KAL DE LOS FRANKOS
@ Naim Avigdor Güleryüz
The “Foreign Jewish Community in the Spanish Portuguese Rite of Istanbul” (Comunita Israelitico-Straniera di Rito Spagnolo Portoghese di Constantinopoli), created in 1862 under the auspices of the King of Italy, began by acquiring a small building to be used as a synagogue, in the Zülf-ü arus (Zülfaris) street of Karaköy. When this building was torn down, the synagogue was moved to a rented place in Bitpazarı, which was not very convenient due to its remoteness from the centre, so another place was rented in the Küçük Hendek Street of Kuledibi. However, upon the insistence of the younger generation, the Board of the Community agreed to acquire some land for the construction of a synagogue and purchased a plot on the Şahsuvar Street (presently the Şair Ziya Paşa Street) in Kuledibi, where the synagogue now stands. But with no money left for the construction, an innovative method was suggested by Emmanuel Salem, a stock exchange broker and a former member of the Galata Community who had joined the Foreign Community. Sinking fund bonds worth 1 Lira, payable within the next eight years, were issued and succeeded in raising the 800 Liras needed for the construction. A further 150 Liras was also donated by Abraham Levi Kezzapçıoğlu and permitted the enlargement of the building area by the acquisition of the adjacent plot.
The construction proceeded with some difficulties, but thanks to the tireless efforts of Leon Piperno, General Secretary of the Community, it was completed and the roof was installed. Yet, for some reason, the Chief Rabbinate’s application for a permit was refused by the State Council. Following formalities such as a statement by the local religious authorities and the district headman, that they saw no inconvenience in the presence of a synagogue in the district, a positive expertise report and the existence of a regulation that prohibited the demolition of a building once its roof was placed, the State Council finally issued a permit to open the synagogue on 23 Cemaziyelevvel 1302 (10 March 1885).
The synagogue was refurbished in the summer of 1980 and central heating was installed in 1998, thanks to a benefactor, while another donor contributed the funds to renew the stained glass windows.
By a board decision taken in 1922, the concerts that were hitherto performed in the synagogue by the Maftirim choir every Saturday were suspended. As of that date, the Maftirim moved their choir performances to the Kenesset (Apollon) Synagogue.For many years, the Italian Synagogue was considered the cultural centre of the Istanbul Jewish community; for 12 weeks before Pesah, a series of Minhag Gedola conferences were held here on Friday evenings and speakers gave their opinions on ethics and religious matters.
The synagogue, which has been constantly open to service over the last 120 years, and where Bar-Mitzva and Bat-Mitzvah ceremonies as well as weddings take place from time to time, and where 300-400 people used to gather to pray, now only opens on special occasions and with the participation of 25-30 people.