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Jewish and Turkish Leaders Hold Meetings in NY Area to Foster Better Communication and Understanding Between the Two Communities

By Staff Writer

The Turkish delegation has been headed by Erhan Atay, Vice Chair of the Turkish American Business Association (TABA), and the Jewish delegation has been headed by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis.

With a mission and goals that were decidedly non-political, the leaders of both communities recognized that while they might not be able to influence political interactions between the governments of Turkey and Israel, they could devote their energies to taking actions that would foster better communication and relations between the members of the Turkish and Jewish communities.

There was also a tacit understanding that neither party ever wanted to shut down a discussion of any issue regardless of any tensions that may accompany such conversations. Each group agreed that the strength of any dialogue relied on the fact that all issues are on the table. Suggestions of ways to explore any crisis situations in a dignified, intellectual and understanding manner will mark the method in which all participants have agreed to proceed.

The group took note of the over 500 years of cordial relations between Turks and Jews, referencing in particular the rescue by the Turkish Sultan of the Jews of Spain during the Inquisition, and the saving of Jews by Turkish Consuls during the Holocaust. Mention was also made of the Israeli effort to save Turks during the 1999 earthquake in Turkey, and Turkey's providing urgently needed fire-fighting planes to Israel during the recent catastrophic fires in Israel.

The group believes that future relations can successfully be built upon the past, where many years of mutual respect between Turkish and Jewish communities proved how much their peoples had in common.

The group recognized the urgent need to publicize to the Turkish and Jewish communities the many positive events that have transpired throughout history between these two vibrant communities.

The group discussed various ideas for possible future projects and activities including:

  1. Changing the perception of Turkey in the US among the Jewish community, and of Israel among the Turkish community.
  2. Throughout the year, representatives of the Jewish community will be writing articles for publication in the Turkish media and the Jewish media will reciprocate with the Turkish journalists.
  3. Joint appearances whenever possible on radio and television programs will take place as well. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik has already invited spokesmen from the Turkish community on his popular radio show.
  4. A film titled "Turkish Passport", sponsored by the public sector, focusing on the relationship of Germany and Turkey vis a vis the treatment of Jews during World War II will be promoted in well publicized events here in the United States. There are currently several events planned in Germany. Americans should be made aware of the hero status that a number of Turkish diplomats, serving in Europe during WWII achieved and deserved for their selfless acts [often at great personal risk] in order to save Jewish lives.
  5. May is when the Turkish Day Parade and the Israeli Day Parade boast the highest concentration of their respective groups on the streets of New York. It is also American-Jewish Heritage Month. The plan is to highlight Jewish-Turkish Heritage as well. There are joint activities planned throughout the month.
  6. Arranging a trip to Israel and Turkey for a select group of invitees from the Turkish and Jewish communities.
  7. A conference on Turkish-Jewish relations for scholars and the public at large may be planned.
  8. A Turkish magazine, Turk America, published a special Jewish Sephardic issue. It is well documented that Turkey was one of very few countries that welcomed the Jews that were expelled from their homes in Spain in 1492 ... and they were welcomed as valued members of the Turkish society. This magazine, which covers this and other issues of Turkish-Jewish history will be distributed to as many Jewish organizations as possible.

It is sincerely hoped that these efforts will yield better relations and understanding between the two communities which have so much in common and can together create a better and brighter future.

Among the organizers of these efforts are:
Erhan Atay; Turkish-American Business Association [US & Turkey], Past President Federation of Turkish American Associations, Vice Chair Turks Living Abroad the Diaspora Organization;
Ibrahim Kurtulus; Advisor to President of Turkish American Associations, US Rep Turks Living Abroad the Diaspora Organization;
Ali Cinar; VP Northeast Region Assemby of Turkish American Associations, US Rep Turks Living Abroad the Diaspora Organization;
Celal Secilmis; President Turkish American Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Community Leader;
Tomris Azeri; President Azerbaijan Society of America, VP Assembly of Turkish American Associations;
Mark Meirowitz; Board Member Turkish American Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Turkish-Jewish Community Activist;
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik; Executive Director New York Board of Rabbis;
Rabbi Craig Miller; Board Member Jewish Community Relations Council, New York Board of Rabbis;
Rabbi Diana Gerson; New York Board of Rabbis;
Henry Levy; Publisher, The Jewish Post

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