— by Nisim Ben Joya
The old synagogues in Izmir, Turkey comprise the only complex in the world of adjacent synagogues in a unique Sephardic architectural style.
Dating back to the 16th century, they were built by deportees from Spain and their descendants, following the Spanish Expulsion of 1492. Considering their deteriorating condition, it is obvious that without massive and quick intervention, there is a real danger that some of these treasures will cave in completely.
Approximately five years ago, the Mordechai Kiriaty Foundation received a call from the Shazar Center and the Avi Chai Foundation to save the ancient synagogues in Izmir. This was the genesis of the Izmir Project.
The Izmir Project was created to preserve and restore the nine salvageable of the original 34. The main goals of the project are to preserve this unique heritage for future generations. There is a plan to establish a Jewish Museum on the site of the old synagogue compound.
The Jewish Museum of Izmir will tell the epic story of the deportation of Jews from Spain. It will allow visitors to experience firsthand the unique culture of Sephardic Jews. It will also allow Muslims to get to know and understand Jewish culture and traditions, and to appreciate Izmir’s earlier practice of tolerance and acceptance of Jews.