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In Turkey, a festival revives a jewel of the Sephardic world and aims to break stereotypes

IZMIR, Turkey (JTA) — Prague has the dubious honor of being chosen by Adolf Hitler to be a record of what he hoped would be the vanquished Jews of Europe. The Nazis left many of the city’s synagogues and Jewish sites relatively intact, intending to showcase them as the remnants of an extinct culture.

That has made Prague a popular tourist destination for both Jewish travelers and others interested in Jewish history since the fall of the Iron Curtain: the city provides an uncommon look into the pre-war infrastructure of Ashkenazi Europe.

Could Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, become a Sephardic version, in terms of history and tourism? That’s the goal for Nesim Bencoya, director of the Izmir Jewish Heritage project. 

The city, once known in Greek as Smyrna, has had a Jewish presence since antiquity, with early church documents mentioning Jews as far back as the second century AD. Like elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire, though, its community grew exponentially with the influx of Sephardic Jews who came after their expulsion from Spain. 

At its peak, the city was home to around 30,000 Jews and was the hometown of Jewish artists, writers and rabbis — from the esteemed Pallache and Algazii rabbinical families, to the musician Dario Marino, to the famously false messiah, Shabbetai Zevi, whose childhood home still stands in Izmir today. 

Today, fewer than 1,300 remain. The establishment of the state of Israel, coupled with a century of economic and political upheaval, led to the immigration of the majority of Turkish Jewry. 

“From the 17th century, Izmir was a center for Sephardic Jewry,” Bencoya told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We can’t recreate that, but we cannot forget that either.”

Izmir is located on Turkey’s Aegean coast. (David I. Klein)

Celebrating in the former Jewish quarter

Bencoya, who is in his late 60s, was born in Izmir but spent most of his adult life in Israel, where he led the Haifa Cinematheque, but he returned to Izmir 13 years ago to helm the heritage project, which has worked to highlight the the culture and history of Izmir’s Jewish community.

Over nine days in December that included the week of Hanukkah, thousands attended the annual Sephardic culture festival that he has organized since 2018. The festival included concerts of Jewish and Ladino music, traditional food tastings, lectures on Izmir’s Jewish community, and — since it coincided with Hanukkah and also a Shabbat — both a menorah lighting ceremony and havdalah ceremony were conducted with explanations from Izmir’s leading cantor, Nesim Beruchiel. 

This year’s festival marked a turning point: it was the first in which organizers were able to show off several of the centuries-old synagogues that the project — with funding from the European Union and the local municipality — has been restoring. 

The synagogues, most of which are clustered around a street still called Havra Sokak (havra being the Turkish spelling of the Hebrew word chevra, or congregation) represent a unique piece of cultural heritage. 

Nesim Bencoya speaks from his office next to the restored Sinyora Synagogue in Izmir. (David I. Klein)

Once upon a time, the street was the heart of the Jewish quarter or “Juderia,” but today it is right in the middle of Izmir’s Kemeralti Bazaar, a bustling market district stretching over 150 acres where almost anything can be bought and sold. On Havra Sokak, the merchants hock fresh fruits, and hopefully fresher fish. One street to the south one can find all manner of leather goods; one to the north has markets for gold, silver and other precious metals; one to the west has coffee shops. In between them all are other shops selling everything from crafts to tchotchkes to kitchenware to lingerie. 

Several mosques and a handful of churches dot the area, but the synagogues revive a unique character of the district that had been all but lost.  

“The synagogues here were built under the light of Spain. But in Spain today, there are only two major historic synagogues, Toledo and Cordoba, and they are big ones. You don’t have smaller ones. Here we have six on one block, built with the memory of what was there by those who left Spain,” Bencoya said. 

Those synagogues have been home to major events in Jewish history — such as when Shabbetei Zvi broke into Izmir’s Portuguese Synagogue one Sabbath morning, drove out his opponents and declared himself the messiah (he cultivated a large following but was later imprisoned and forced to convert to Islam). The synagogue, known in Turkish as Portekez, was among those restored by the project. 

Today, only two of Izmir’s synagogues are in regular use by its Jewish community, but the others that were restored are now available as exhibition and event spaces. 

Educating non-Jews

Hosting the festival within Izmir’s unique synagogues has an additional purpose, since the overwhelming majority of the attendees were not Jewish. 

“Most of the people who come to the festival have never been to a synagogue, maybe a small percentage of them have met a Jew once in their lives,” Bencoya said. 

That’s particularly important in a country where antisemitic beliefs are far from uncommon. In a 2015 study by the Anti-Defamation League, 71% of respondents from Turkey believe in some antisemitic stereotypes

The festival included concerts of Jewish and Ladino music, traditional food tastings and lectures on Izmir’s Jewish community.(David I. Klein)

“This festival is not for Jewish people to know us, but for non-Jews,” Bencoya said. Now, “Hundreds of Turkish Muslim people have come to see us, to listen to our holidays and taste what we do.”

Kayra Ergen, a native of Izmir who attended a Ladino concert and menorah lighting event at the end of the festival, told JTA that until a year ago, he had no idea how Jewish Izmir once was. 

“I know that Anatolia is a multicultural land, and also Turkey is, but this religion, by which I mean Jewish people, left this place a long time ago because of many bad events. But it’s good to remember these people, and their roots in Izmir,” Ergen said. “This is so sad and lame to say out loud, but I didn’t know about this — that only 70 years ago, 60% of this area here in Konak [the district around Kemeralti] was Jewish. Today I believe only 1,300 remain. This is not good. But we must do whatever we can and this festival is a good example of showing the love between cultures.”

“I think it’s good that we’re respecting each other in here,” said Zeynep Uslu, another native of Izmir. “A lot of different cultures and a lot of different people. It’s good that we’re together here celebrating something so special.”

Izmir’s history as a home for minorities has not been all rosy. At the end of the Ottoman period, the city was around half Greek, a tenth Jewish and a tenth Armenian, while the remainder were Turkish Muslims and an assortment of foreigners. In the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922 — remembered in Turkey as the Turkish War of Independence — the Greek and Armenian quarters of Izmir were burned to the ground after the Turkish army retook the city from the Greek forces, killing tens of thousands. A mass exodus of the survivors followed, but the Jewish and Muslim portions of the city were largely unharmed.

Izmir is not the only city in Turkey which has seen its synagogues restored in recent years. Notable projects are being completed in Edirne, a city on the Turkish western border near Bulgaria, and Kilis, on its southeastern border near Syria. Unlike Izmir, though, no Jews remain in either of those cities today, and many have accused the project of being a tool for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to assuage accusations of antisemitism, without actually dealing with living Jews. 

Losing Ladino and a ‘quiet’ mindset

Bencoya lamented that he is among the last generation for whom Ladino — the Judeo-Spanish language traditionally spoken by Sephardic Jews, but only spoken by tens of thousands today — was at least a part of his childhood. 

“When you lose language, it’s not only technical, it’s not only vocabulary, it’s a whole world and a way of thinking,” Bencoya said. 

The project is challenging a local Jewish mentality as well. Minority groups in Izmir, especially Jews, “have for a long time preferred not to be seen, not to be felt,” according to Bencoya.

That mindset has been codified in the Turkish Jewish community’s collective psyche in the form of a Ladino word, “kayedes,” which means something along the lines of “shhh,” “be quiet,” or “keep your head down.”

“This is the exact opposite that I want to do with this festival — to be felt, to raise awareness of my being,” Bencoya said. 

The Bikur Holim Synagogue is one of the few still functioning in Izmir. (David I. Klein)

One way of doing that, he added, was having the festival refer to the community’s identity “as Yahudi and not Musevi!” Both are Turkish words that refer to Jews: the former having the same root as the English word Jew — the Hebrew word Yehuda or Judea — while the latter means “follower of Moses.”

“Yahudi, Musevi, Ibrani [meaning Hebrew, in Turkish] — they all mean the same thing, but in Turkey, they say Musevi because it sounds nicer,” Bencoya said. “To Yahudi there are a lot of negative superlatives — dirty Yahudi, filthy Yahudi, and this and that. So I insist on saying that I am Yahudi, because people have a lot of pre-judgements about the name Yahudi. So if you have prejudgements about me, let’s open them and talk about them.”

“I am not so romantic that I can eliminate all antisemitism, but if I can eliminate some of the prejudgements, then I can live a little more at peace,” he added.

So far, he feels the festival is a successful first step. 

“The non-Jewish community of Izmir is fascinated,” Bencoya said. “If you look on Facebook and Instagram, they are talking about it, they are fighting over tickets, which sell out almost immediately.” 

Now, he is only wondering how next year he will be able to fit more people into the small and aged synagogues. 

“For Turkey, [the festival] is very important because Turkey can be among the enlightened nations of the world, only by being aware of the differences between groups of people, such as Jews, Christians, others, and Muslims,” he said.

The post In Turkey, a festival revives a jewel of the Sephardic world and aims to break stereotypes appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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