What is life like in a secular Muslim nation, especially for Jews?
This was the question that motivated 17 Wesleyan students – 12 Jewish, 5
Muslim – to go to Istanbul, Turkey, in March during spring break to see for
eight-day trip, which was envisioned and created by Wesleyan’s Muslim
Chaplain Imam Abdullah Antepli and Wesleyan’s Jewish Chaplain Rabbi David Leipziger,
was discussed at a presentation on April 19 in Judd Hall.
Leipziger says the objectives of the inter-religious trip were to study
successful Jewish-Muslim coexistence in Istanbul, to interact and build
bridges with the Jewish and Muslim communities and to visit major religious
and historical sites.
“Most importantly, we wanted to them to learn about each others’ backgrounds
in order to build strong and vibrant inter-religious programming at
Wesleyan,” he says.
During the discussion, nine of the students took turns discussing their
views on the country’s politics, government, social interactions,
impressions of the country and interactions between the Wesleyan students.
Dan Janvey ’06 of New York, N.Y., presented a short documentary on the trip,
which included clips of a mosque, prayer, music, and personally delivering a
Wesleyan T-shirt to a chief rabbi.
went on guided tours through Istanbul. Destinations included old Istanbul, a
Jewish museum, the Turkish parliament, and a historical home in the Galata
area. The students also went to an Egyptian Bazaar, mosques, Faith
University, a Turkish music concert, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, a
sufi dance performance, and a Muslim prayer service.
students influential religious and secular leaders in the city, including
Chief Rabbi Ishak Halevo and local Jewish leaders, Turkish journalist Ekrem
Dumanli local Christian leaders, as
well as Vatican representative George Marovitch, and Turkish peace activists
and interfaith workers. They also met with U.S. Ambassador Eric Edelman in
the U.S. Embassy.
it was during dinners that the students received the most personal
interaction with the Turkish people. Every night they’d share a meal at a
local resident’s home, one night with a Muslim family, the next with Jewish
Yaneez Nojib, ’08, of Saint-Pierre, Mauritius, said for a few of the Muslim
families, this was their first time hosting Jews in their homes. They also
allowed the Jews to pray in their living rooms during Sabbath.
“One night, we ate at this man’s home,” Nojib says. “He was dressed like he
was from the O.C. so we thought he was a businessman, but when we sat down
for dinner, he didn’t have servants to bring us our food. He personally came
and brought us out food, and that just shows what wonderful, hospitable,
welcoming people they are. If there’s one thing I learned, it is that I need
to find myself a Turkish wife.”
country of Turkey has welcomed Jews, expelled from Spain, and Muslims since
1492. Because Turkey is a secular state and forbids census-takers to include
questions of religious affiliations, the exact number of the Jewish
population is unknown. By 1477, Jewish households in Istanbul numbered 1,647
or 11 percent of the total, and the present estimation is around 26,000,
with the majority living in Istanbul.
Although Judiasm has a small presence in Turkey, among nearly 70 million
Muslims, Andrew Inchiosa ’07 of Woodcliff, N.J. says the Jewish community is
evolving with the Turkish culture. During a Shabbat service, one practice
seemed especially anomalous to the group.
the mosques, they’d hold out their hands in prayer, but we also observed
that at the synagogue,” Inchiosa says. “It involved a partial, one-handed
waving motion. We met an American student studying in Istanbul after the
service, and he explained that this was a distinctly Turkish tradition.”
Inchiosa says there were also few religious divisions from a culinary
students were served Turkish tea at many different religious functions, and
experienced a version of Turkish delight, featuring milk chocolate, at the
home of the ambassador to the Vatican.
Other students who went on the trip were Alana Miller ‘08, Jeremy Gillick
‘07, Jessica Strom ’07, Leora Abelson ‘07, Saad Mustafa Handoo ‘06, Marie
Brophy ‘08, Lillian Siegel ‘08, Nitzan Ziv ’07, Jacob Goldin ’07, Ben Smyser
‘08, David Abravanel ‘08, Emiria Wijayanti ‘07, Joel Bhuiyan ‘06 and Nabil
Handoo, of Clarksville, Md., says the students want to reach out to area
newspapers, deliver presentations in their hometowns, write articles for
Turkish newsletters, hold discussions and conferences about their trip, and
reach out to Wesleyan alumni regarding their interfaith experience.
“Now that we have this knowledge, we want to share it with a broader base
and other religious circles,” he says. “What we have been through has been a
Another trip is being planned for March
Anyone interested in ordering a DVD of the
students' documentary, or having the Wesleyan students make a presentation
at individual synagogues, mosques, schools or other venues, contact Rabbi
Leipziger at 860-685-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.