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Ottomans, Turks and the Jewish Polity:
A History of the Jews of Turkey

Daniel J. Elazar

The question of the place of the Sephardim in Israel is one of the two great domestic social questions which regularly gain public attention in the Jewish State and abroad, along with the religious issue. One consequence of that public interest is the generation of considerable comment not grounded in solid knowledge or research. Much of that comment is based upon sheer misinformation, yet it has become part of the conventional wisdom, to the detriment of all. A proper resolution of the Sephardic-Ashkenazic issue, like others, requires proper understanding of it and its components.

When the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs came into existence, it inherited an interest in this issue which had led this writer to study and publish in the area, beginning in the 1960s. hence it was natural for the Jerusalem Center to establish a program within its framework dealing with Ashkenazim and Sephardim. That program includes several dimensions, both academic and applied. Walter Weiker's study of the Jews from Turkey in Israel is part of its academic effort to bring greater understanding to public consideration of the issue.

Dr. Weiker has made a signal contribution in developing an understanding of the middle group in Israeli society, between European Ashkenazim and North African Sephardim, in which the Jews from Turkey are among the most prominent. In this volume he studies the Jewish immigrants from that country in their Israeli setting, in depth. What emerges is a picture of a group which is the utter opposite of virtually every stereotype about Sephardim that has become part of the conventional wisdom. It is a population that has established itself well in Israel and ranges across the entire socioeconomic spectrum, albeit concentrated in the middle. It does not engage in political protest or indeed is much involved in political activity. It is a population moving along with the Israeli mainstream in almost every respect; yet also one that maintains close connections with Turkey, a country which they left not so much under duress as because of their shared religio-Zionist vision. As Weiker says, "I am not aware of another community which seems to combine so many of the [characteristics] which we might call 'positive.'" He concludes that the Jews "from Turkey have been among the 'best' at integrating and adjusting."

The Jews from Turkey are unique in another way. they are the only group that has come to Israel from within Israel's own region that was not part of the "exchange of populations" with the Arab states, but from a country to which Jews can return to visit or to live. Hence connections between those who have emigrated and those who have stayed are easily maintained at short distance. This, too, has influenced their development in Israel.

This book may profitably be read in conjunction with the Center's previous study of The Balkan Jewish Communities: Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, especially the chapter by Adina Weiss Liberles on "The Jewish Community of Turkey." For the larger context, see this writer's The Other Jews: The Sephardim Today, a comprehensive overview of the position of the Sephardim in Israel and the diaspora. We at the Jerusalem Center are pleased to add this book to our growing list of publications on Sephardic Jewry.

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