Culture, Americas

US TV show documents Ottoman Jews across Turkey

Host of series on Jewish communities hails Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II for welcoming Jewish community

Gokhan Balci   | 11.10.2021
US TV show documents Ottoman Jews across Turkey

EDIRNE, Turkey

A US television team is following the traces of Jews who settled in Turkey at the invitation of Sultan Bayezid II following the expulsion of Jews from Spain.

The team of the Jewish Life Television (JLT) channel, invited by the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry, is in Turkey’s northwestern province of Edirne, once the capital of the Ottoman Empire after filming in Turkey’s largest city Istanbul.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Brad Pomerance, the host of Air Land & Sea, a global travel series about Jewish communities, said Turkey has always been the center of the three great monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Noting that being in Edirne was “really inspiring,” Pomerance said: “After here (historic Selimiye Mosque), we are going to visit the Great Synagogue of Edirne.”

“It just goes to show you how Turkey continues to be a tolerant country that welcomes people of all faiths, whether you're Muslim, whether you're Christian, whether you're Jewish,” he added. “Yes, Turkey is 99% Muslim, but I have felt incredibly welcomed as a Jewish American documenting the story of Jews in Turkey from the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 to the present.”

The five-member team started filming at the historic Selimiye Mosque, then interviewed Jewish families living in the city as well as the Grant Synagogue of Edirne, which was restored in 2015 and is the largest one in the Balkans and third-largest in Europe.

The TV team also filmed the Sultan Bayezid II Mosque Complex, built in the 15th century as a hospital and medical training facility, in addition to the mosque. Awarded with the European Museum Award in 2004 as well as a place in UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list, it now serves as a health museum.

“I am looking at this mosque (Selimiye) and thinking that it was built in the 1570s and 14,000 people worked on it. And here I am atop one of the minarets. I'm a nice Jewish boy from America, and I am visiting one of the Muslims’ great structures, one of Islam’s great structures. What an honor, what a gift,” said Pomerance.

Filming Istanbul, Edirne, Izmir

Pomerance and his team have already filmed Istanbul’s historic Galata Tower as well as Hemdat Israel Synagogue in the Kadikoy district on the Asian side.

Following the filming in Edirne, they plan to visit Turkey’s Aegean province of Izmir, which “was also a great center of Jewish thinking,” he said.

He also highlighted the importance of Sultan Bayezid II, the Ottoman sultan in 1492 when “Spain and Portugal were expelling the Jews, and Christian Europe was rejecting the Jews.”

“Sultan Bayezid II literally sent fleets of boats to the Iberian Peninsula to take hundreds of thousands of Jews to the Ottoman Empire because he saw the contributions that these Jews could make, and they did, and they did for 500 years,” he added.

“The community is much smaller than it was. There are still Jews contributing to modern Turkey,” he said.

The US TV host also said he feels “emotional” when he thinks about Sultan Bayezid II. “I salute Sultan Bayezid II for welcoming the Jewish community.”

“I have friends that are Turkish Jews,” he said. “They wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Sultan Bayezid II to welcome them to the Ottoman Empire.”

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