Inseparable Part of Milas

The sign for Jewish Cemetery. (Photo by Nevzat Tufekci)

By Nevzat Çağlar Tüfekçi -
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Although it is widely known that Jews lived in Milas, an ancient city in southwestern Turkey, part of Muğla Province and it was the ancient capital of Caria and of the Anatolian Turkish Beylik of Menteşe, the territory of Milas district contains a remarkable twenty-seven archaeological sites. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the history of Jews in the region is older. 
In certain historical sources, it is shown that in the ancient port city of Iasos, which was within Milas, there was a Jewish community in the centuries before the common era.  It is also understood from a Hebrew tomb inscription in Port Gumusluk of Bodrum, which is again near Milas, that Jews lived in the area in 6 B.C.

During the Mentese Principality, which ruled in Anatolia and had Milas as its capital city, Jews lived in Milas during 1300’s.

Among the minorities living in Milas, Greeks were the largest group.  Jews and Armenians followed them in order.  The Greek population was the greatest.  As a result of the 1924 Turkish-Greek Population Exchange, about 3000 Greeks migrated from Milas to Greek islands.  Jews were the second largest minority group in Milas after Greeks.  There are no official records indicating the presence of Jews in Milas until the 19th century.  Jews came to Milas in the 19th century from Rodos, Aydin, and Izmir.

During the first half of the 19th century, there was a Jewish community consisting of ten families.  The population of the Jewish community in Milas was 542 between 1904 and 1905; and it increased to 1005 between 1914-1915.  According to Ottoman records, on March 14, 1914, there were 1615 Jews living in Mentese, in the Mugla province.  During these years, the most densely populated Jewish communities of Mugla were in the city of Milas.  There were two reasons for this.  One of the reasons is that some of the Jewish communities moved to Milas because of the possibility of bomb attacks from ships in Bodrum during the First World War.  Another reason is the commercial potential in Milas and the liveliness of economic life there.  This liveliness made Milas attractive.
Jewish cemetery in Milas. (Photo by Nevzat Tufekci)

Jews in Milas used to live in the oldest areas of the city, in the Hoca Bedrettin and Hisarbasi neighborhoods.  Because of this, the Hoca Bedrettin neighborhood is also known as ‘Jewish Town’ among many.  Mostly Jews lived in these areas.  They worshiped in the two synagogues on Cicek Street in the Hoca Bedrettin neighborhood.  One of these synagogues were built in 1850, and the other in 1897.  The location of these synagogues is now used for the Societal Education Center Directorate building.  

The first governor of the community, Haham Abraham Amato, who received his education in the traditional Jewish school Yeshiva in Rodos in the year 1835, came to Milas and took over the duties from his father and managed community affairs for 30 consecutive years.  Over the years, as the population of the Jewish community increased, so did the number of their rulers.  Celebi Mordehai Levi from Izmir, Morcado Abaof from Rodos, and Celebi Nissim Soriano from Aydin came to Milas and had influence over the management of the community.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the organization called Juven Union (Youth Assembly) took over all of the institutions of the community.  The board of the Juven Union included Nissim J. Tarika, Hizkia Franco, Rahamim S. Tarika, Gad Franco, Marco Israel and Alabuf.

The ‘Women’s Assembly,’ which was established in 1927 by Rebecca Benettar, Kadum Notrica, Rachel Amato, Birlante Israel, Elvira Pisante, Maria Alhedef and Estreilla Amato, would arrange sewing classes especially for the orphaned and needy Jewish girls in order to help them prepare for life.

Certain other women’s organizations, as well, used to organize parties and balls to fund the needy.  The Milas Jewish community would try to meet the needs of the orphanage in Izmir and the Jewish Hospital.

The reforms of the early years of the Republic did not cause any discomfort among the Jews in Milas.  Jews welcomed the modern reforms, such as the replacement of the Arabic alphabet with Latin letters; wearing of hats instead of the fez; and abolishment of the usage of the veil.  Under the 1934 surname law, many Jews took Turkish last names.  There was great admiration felt towards Ataturk among the Jews of Milas.  In November 10, 1938, when Ataturk passed away, Jewish stores in Milas were closed down and a mourning atmosphere took over in the homes.

The education of the children of the Milas Jewish community was initially provided in schools such as Talmud Torah, which had Torah lessons.  Avram Galanti speaks of the presence of Talmud Torah in Milas in 1851.  At the end of the 19th century, ‘Alliance Israelite Universelle’ schools came into place for the Jews.  In the Jewish school next to the synagogue there were 49 students in 1897 and 95 in 1908.  There was a separate school for the girls.  The Jewish school in Milas continued its function under the management of the Alliance schools.  Also, there were groups of Jewish children who received their education in schools providing education in Turkish; such as Mentese Elementary School and Milas Secondary School.

Jews in Milas mostly were engaged in commerce.  Commerce-related factors are among the primary reasons for Jews’ settlement in Milas.  In particular, the trade of certain agricultural products such as tobacco and cotton,  and olive and olive oil, as well as the drapery and jewelry business, were almost completely carried out by Jews.  Mining was also under their management.

They ran workshops in which ‘Milas rugs’ were woven.  Of the 45 draperies in Milas, 42 belonged to Jews.  Jewish merchants in Milas used to export goods to Izmir and European countries from Gulluk Port.  The ‘wealth tax’ of November 11, 1942 did not cause Jews to experience much hardship.  What is, in fact, not forgotten by the Jews in Milas is that the officials in Milas actually cut this tax to the amount that Jews could afford to pay.  There was no opposition against Jews in Milas as there was in other regions.

There were 157 Jewish families in Milas in the year of 1910.  After that year, groups of Jews in Milas began to migrate to Izmir and continued their involvement in commerce there.  Young students did not return to Milas and continued their lives in big cities such as Izmir and Istanbul.  In addition to Izmir and Istanbul, there were those who moved to Aydin, Soke, Bursa, Ankara, Datca, Bandirma, Canakkale, Edirne, Corlu, Tekirdag, Mersin, and Adana.  Some others moved to European countries, America, and Africa (Congo).  
One of Jewish tomb in Milas cemetery. (Photo by Nevzat Tufekci)

There were 80 Jewish families remaining in Milas in the year 1927.  Their population decreased after 1932.  The real migration of Jews from Milas took place in 1948 when the state of Israel was established.  Firstly, the young ones went to Israel for military service.  Later, the elderly and the women migrated to Israel through Izmir.  The houses they stayed in; a Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of Mount Sodra in southern Milas; and a Hebrew inscription -consisting of 5640 letters- by the entrance of Miner Nissim Tarica’s house in Park Street in the Hoca Bedrettin neighborhood are among the traces Jewish communities left in the region.

Jews from Milas used to gather by the Yarkon Bridge near Tel Aviv every year, from the year 1948 till 1980, in order to celebrate ‘The day of Milasians.’  Jews of Milas who gathered here would commemorate their friends and neighbors from Milas by chatting and singing.  In the years to follow, these gatherings could not take place because of age and health issues.

The contribution of the Jews of Milas to the societal make-up of Milas is great.  Men and women in Milas learned tailoring from the Jewish community.  They taught their merchants and artisans to love what they did, to claim their work, and to have discipline.  They used to wear their most precious clothing as though they were going to a wedding or a holiday celebration and take ‘ornament strolls.’  (This strolling used to take place in the city center and along the long and wide avenue by the city park.)
The native society learned a great deal about commerce from Jews.  Although they are now leading their lives far from Milas, their love for Milas and their longing for Turkey never ends.  They come back to Milas to visit, to see their old houses, to meet with their old friends and neighbors who are still alive.  They are an inseparable part of Milas and also our fellow countrymen.

Jakop Tarika (treasurer), Joseph Franco (treasurer), Jacop Messeri (treasurer), Hiziko Amato (treasurer), Moise Franco (Rabbi). Haim Franco, Jacop Tarica, Rabenou Amato, Rahamim Franco ve Jacop Amato, (members of Bidayet Court, one of the court system in Ottoman Empire law). Dr. Elie de Ciavés and Dr. Raphael Pérahya (doctors of municipal), Jakoup Bérou (Chief of Land Registry), Albert Cadranel (Assistant Manager of Revenue Service), Behor İsrael (Member of Milas Municipal Assembly, editor of philosophy magazine, chief editor of Hadise Newspaper), Behor Bensoussan (France teacher),  Marco İsrael (Milas Middle School France teacher), Joseph Tarica (Deputy Consul of France in Milas), Joseph Tarica (interpreter of İzmir U.S. Consul), Sara Cadranel (alumna of Paris Allience İsraelite Universelle), Rafael Amato (Alumni of Istanbul Law Faculty and executive manager of Levant newspaper in Izmir), Albert Tarica (Lawyer in İzmir, he wrote business law in Hebrew and English, he was president of General Assembly of Bene Berith Hospital in İzmir), Marcel Franco (He studied law in Switzerland. He was a president of Jewish community in İstanbul), Dr. Gad Franco Milasli (Graduated from Turk College in Rhodes Island. Moved to İzmir in 1902 and worked for Hikmet ve Ahenk newspaper. He was a lawyer and he had a Phd. from Paris Law School and wrote a lot of book about law), Hizkia Franco (Founder of Franco printing house in İzmir. With his cousin Gad Franco, he printed El Commercial Newspaper. He was a leader of İzmir Jewish community. He published Selam and El Boletin newspapers. He wrote a book, Empresiones J. Reflexiones), Leon Danon (principal of Milas Jewish School and Bene Berith School in İzmir), Behor Amato (Lawyer), Dr. Sara Şikar (Asaf Arofe Hospital), Dr. Jaakov Beja (He was a President of Israeli Doctors Union), Jaakov Varol (NASA), Jontov Levy (He was a member of France Language Academia)
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07