The Kiriaty Foundation prepared a master plan for the restoration of nine synagogues in İzmir's Kemeraltı area and plans to convert these historical buildings into a Jewish Culture Museum to contribute to Turkey's religious tourism. The foundation, which is in search of funding from other Jewish foundations around the world, will receive support from the İzmir University of Economics and the İzmir Promotion Foundation.
Kiriaty Foundation President Judith Kiriaty Matalon, foundation architect Naor Mimar, International Relations Development Manager Uri Bar-Ner, İzmir Jewish Community Association President Samuel Azar and the coordinator of Synagogues of İzmir, Nesim Bencoya, all paid a visit to the office of Ekrem Demirtaş, chairman of the board of the İzmir Chamber of Commerce. Matalon offered insights about the İzmir Project, including restoration of nine synagogues and the construction of a Jewish Culture Museum. Matalon said there is no other place in the world similar to Kemeraltı, as it is home to the biggest synagogues with some of the most beautiful architectural hallmarks. Highlighting the importance of the historical Kemeraltı region for tourism, Matalon continued by saying: "The tolerance that has been shown to the Jewish community in İzmir means so much to us. This tolerance was never shown to us anywhere in Europe. We, the Israelis, appreciate so much that we were allowed to protect our cultural heritage for centuries." She added that they have prepared a report on cultural heritage tourism in İzmir, adding their master plan for the renovation of the synagogues and the construction of the cultural museum is also ready.
The most important thing for these old synagogues in İzmir is to protect their exteriors. Matalon said that they have already taken the exterior of Ets Hayim Synagogue, which is the oldest synagogue in the region, under protection. "We have prepared restoration plans for Ets Hayim," said Matalon. "We have made presentations about the restoration project in other countries in order to gather funding. We contacted other Jewish communities in Europe as well as in the U.S. Many Sephardi Jews have taken a close interest in the project. However, we are still in search of proper funding."
According to Matalon, the foundations and associations that are willing to provide funding for the project want to see the support of local organizations and institutions. "This will give seriousness to the project," said Matalon. She also said their aim is to create a cultural heritage area and enable different cultures to communicate with each other.
The project is expected to draw scores of tourists to the area, which will also provide revenue to local shopkeepers.
On the other hand, the president of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (İTO), Demirtaş, indicated that İzmir University of Economics and the İzmir Promotion Foundation would support the project. He said that a total of 1,400 people in İzmir belong to the Jewish community and added: "Some of the synagogues of the Jewish community have been neglected. It is important to protect these buildings out of respect. The project will definitely contribute to tourism activities in İzmir."
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