May 27, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Turkish Consulate in NY Hosts First-Ever Menorah Lighting Celebration

Bridge Turkish Grill of HP caters inaugural kosher-catered Chanukah celebration.

On the fourth night of Chanukah, Reyhan Özgür , the Turkish Consul General in New York, and Asaf Zamir, Consul General of Israel in New York, along with other distinguished members of the New York metropolitan Turkish-Jewish community, gathered to celebrate Chanukah in the Turkish House of the Turkish Consulate in New York. Highland Park’s The Bridge Turkish Grill catered the event.

In welcoming the Jewish guests to the Turkish House, Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. Hasan Murat Mercan said, “The Jewish community is an inseparable part of our land, our community, whether they live in Turkey or New York. … Turkey has been home to different religions, different cultures, and all of them helped with the cornerstone of our collective history… Our diversity reflects our strength. … The doors of Turkish House are always wide open to our Jewish friends.”

Özgür said, “Sephardic Jews have become an integral part of Turkish society, enriching its culture and economy.” Zamir graciously thanked the Turkish government and people for celebrating Chanukah and for Turkey’s friendship.

The Chanukah celebration was particularly historic as it was the first time a menorah was lit in the Turkish embassy. Even more special was the menorah itself, which was salvaged from the ruins of the Holocaust.

The early-19th-century menorah, authenticated by a sanctioned antique expert, was rescued by Thomas Gelb, also known for his unique and prolific besamim-box collection.

Gelb believes that the menorah was rescued around or at the time of Kristallnacht from a shul in a small town in Czechoslovakia and hidden in a church by a sympathetic priest. After the war, it was returned to the Jewish community. The menorah was then sold to a local antique dealer and later claimed for purchase by the Jewish Museum in Prague.

Visiting family decades later, Gelb, who is a Czech native, happened into the shop, spotted the menorah, but was told it had been claimed for purchase by the museum. However, after a number of years sitting in the shop awaiting payment, the museum informed the shop owner that it did not have the funds to complete the purchase.

Realizing Gelb’s ongoing interest in the piece, the shop owner contacted Gelb, they settled on a price and he returned to Czechoslovakia to purchase this historic menorah that had survived the war in much the same way as many other survivors, in hiding.

Gelb’s friend Ron Palti, president of the Jewish Turkish community in the northeast region, knew of the menorah from their discussions. Palti informed Gelb earlier this month that he had been invited by officials at the Turkish Embassy in New York to participate in their first-ever Chanukah lighting, and asked Gelb if they could use the special menorah.

And so it was that not only did the menorah lighting take place this year in a previously hostile embassy, but it was carried out using a rescued menorah from the Holocaust.

The embassy event featured traditional Turkish food including kofte and chicken shish, together with the traditional Chanukah latkes, all made by the chefs at The Bridge Turkish and Mediterranean Grill, the only glatt kosher Turkish restaurant in the US.

By Harry Glazer and Ellie Wolf

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