Photo Credit: UAE Jewish community
Rabbi Levi Duchman lights the Hanukkah menorah in the Israeli pavilion at EXPO 2020 in Dubai, Nov. 28, 2021.

An international festival designed to highlight the culture of Sephardic Jews in Turkey is set to kick off this year in the city of Izmir.

This year’s International Izmir Sephardic Culture Festival will feature Mediterranean Sephardic Music concerts, film screenings and other cultural events, plus a guided tour of the synagogues and talks by foreign Sephardic culture experts.


“A candle-lighting ceremony will also be held at the festival for Hanukah, a Jewish holiday,” the Turkish Daily Sabah news outlet reported.

The festival is being held in cooperation with the Sephardic Culture Collective, the Konak Municipality and the Izmir Jewish community.

According to Sephardic Culture Collective President Nesim Bencoya, the group is working to establish an open-air museum and visitors’ center in the area where synagogues are located.

Those Jews now living in Izmir are the descendants of those who escaped the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century CE and settled in Anatolia at the invitation of the Ottoman Empire, maintaining their Sephardic Jewish culture throughout the centuries.

“Izmir is really the center of Sephardic Judaism in the 17th and 18th centuries,” Bencoya told the Daily Sabah. “We see this everywhere, from music to food, from architecture to synagogues.”

At the Hanukah candle-lighting ceremony, a “traditional menorah” will be lit at the Hevra Synagogue in Kemeraltı. But instead of lighting one candle each night, as is the tradition, Bencoya said, “Symbolically, we will light all eight candles on the last day of the festival.

“Although Hanukah is a Jewish holiday, we ask people from different ethnic groups to light it as well. We think this is how we convey the message of coexistence and multiculturalism.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.