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Avimelek family from Turkey happy with new life in Winnipeg

By MYRON LOVE In the 140-year history of our Jewish community, Jewish families coming here from Turkey have been rare indeed. There was the Hazan amily, which came in the 1920s – and the larger Kives family, who passed through Turkey in the 1920s on its way to – first – Saskatchewan and the farming life, before settling in Winnipeg.
In the past couple of years though, several more Jewish families from Turkey have decided to make their home here – including the Avimelek family from Istanbul.
Mother Etel Ergun Avimelek reports that her family is one of five Jewish families recently arrived here from Istanbul, all of whom live within a few blocks of each other in Whyte Ridge.
“Our families get together almost weekly,” she says.
The Avimelek Family – Etel, her husband Morris, and children, 18-year-old Igal, and 16-year-old Edem, landed in Winnipeg in 2020. Etel Avimelek notes that her family’s roots in Istanbul go back over 500 years – to the time of the expulsion of all Jews from Spain in 1492.
“We had a good life in Istanbul,” Etel Avimelek says. “Morris and I both had good educations and trained as engineers.”
She reports that the Jewish population in Istanbul numbers about 12,000 in a city of more than 15 million. “A lot of Turkish Jews,” she notes, “end up marrying Turks.”
She adds that the city is very crowded, made more so in recent years by a large influx of refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries in the region.
She further notes that a lot of younger Jewish families are leaving Istanbul – and Turkey – with most choosing to go to Israel. “We were considering moving to Israel, too,” she notes, “before we learned about Winnipeg’s Jewish community through the (Jewish Federation) website. It sounded like a nice, welcoming community with a good Jewish school. We contacted Dalia (Szpiro, director of the Federation’s GrowWinnipeg initiative) and learned from her that there were already other Jewish families from Turkey here.”
The Avimeleks began the application process to come here in 2017 and finally landed in 2020. As Etel observes, it wasn’t the best time to arrive, due to the Covid lockdowns, as it made things more difficult in getting to know people.
They quickly enrolled the kids in Gray Academy. This year Igal is in first year engineering at UBC.
Morris, she notes, worked in the textile industry in Istanbul. Here, he has established the Upperwear Textile Agency – marketing textile products online. Etel set herself up in business and, in September, began working full time for her biggest client, the University of Manitoba, helping to update the university’s information systems.
“We are happy with our life here,” she says. “We have made friends and we are comfortable. We don’t miss living in a bigger city.”

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