Passover Seder in Istanbul

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A few weeks before we arrived in Istanbul Ilise was talking with her mom and was asked where we were going to spend Passover. It was an excellent question because we hadn’t even thought of that. We looked at the calendar and realized that we would be in Istanbul so I went to work networking with the contacts I had met to see if they knew any families that we could spent Passover with. In the end we received two invitations, one through Tijen, who has become a wonderful friend and guide to Istanbul, and one through Suleyman. Suleyman is the Rotarian responsible for getting me the speaking engagement this weekend at the Rotary District Meeting.

Tijen was the first to get back to us so we agreed to go to Bessi and Hemi Meshulam’s for the first night of Passover. Ilise and the kids are going to spend the rest of the weekend with Tijen, so I can focus on my keynote tomorrow and I will then go to the second Seder by myself. I will blog about tonight’s Seder separately. We decided to travel to the Seder with Tijen since we had no idea where we were going. We left our apartment, jumped on a subway, got out near Tijen’s mom’s apartment and walked in the light rain to her car. We all piled in the car and headed to the Meshulam’s house as Ayse Maya went up to her grandmother’s apartment for the night.

We started driving and there was traffic everywhere. Tijen decided to try and get around the traffic, which she did successfully and we were off. We drove through a part of Istanbul we didn’t even knew existed. Up until this point everything we have seen has been old. Beyoglu and Eminonu are very old parts of the city, with old architecture and small roads. When we started driving with Tijen the city opened up, multiple lane roads and huge buildings, new, large and modern buildings. All of a sudden Istanbul became a much different city. I’m so glad that we were able to head to this area of the city and drive through an amazing new experience that changed my view of Istanbul. Our return drive home from the Seder provided even more views of the modern portion of this immense city.

We arrived at the Seder and were welcomed with open arms by Bessi, Hemi and their entire family. Their parents were there, siblings with their kids and a lot of love and a connected family. Bessi and Hemi’s oldest child, Moli, is graduating from high school and has been accepted to Northwestern and Berkley and is struggling with her decision about which college to go to. I’m sure she will be happy wherever she chooses to go. In addition to Moli was their son, Erez, both mothers and Hemi’s father as well. His father is 90 years old and still in very good health. There was also Bessi’s brother and sister in law with their three children that live in Israel. It turns out that they are friends with a family that we know well from Riverdale, the Benyamins. It is such a small world and it gets smaller every day!

The conversation was very meaningful, with discussions about their culture, the state of the Jewish community in Turkey and about my talk this weekend. I enjoyed my conversation with Bessi who understands what I’m talking about but doesn’t believe she needs a purpose. She has deep connectedness through other parts of her life and feels complete. I explained that in the end what is important is the feeling of deep connectedness, not purpose. If you feel a sense of really deep connectedness that is all that matters.

We left their house after midnight and Hemi was kind enough to offer us a ride home. He drove us through the city that he is very proud of and took a few detours to show us some nicer neighborhoods. He also suggested that we take a long walk up the Bosphorus and see the city from the banks of the water. He showed us a few of the massive hotels, one that used to be a palace. This was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life, a night that was filled with love and open hearts that welcomed us into their home.

To a life well lived!


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