The Jewish people has had a significant role in the history of Izmir, as a community having enriched the urban life of the city both with their cultures, traditions and life styles. The Jewish people who used to be much more than today especially in the Ottoman Empire period, and has always had an important role in the trade, are still significant for Izmir despite the fact that their number has decreased in our day. In fact, the historical values are of great importance for the urban life and history of Izmir. This part of the study is about the historical background, cultures, life styles and works of these people, in more widely used saying, the Jewish Community.
The first Jewish community in Izmir was observed in the 4th Century, BC, in the period of the Great Alexander who was the famous Macedonian Emperor and probably was brought to the region by the Great Alexander to live in the area. The Saint Polycarp who used to live in Izmir expressed his views of the Jewish life style in the Aegean region. According to some Greek scriptures from the 2nd and the 3rd Centures, DC, those who disrespect the Jewish community was punished by the community management. A menorah figüre can be seen in a seal which probably dates from
the same period. Another scripture from the same period reads the announcement of a woman named Rufina to public , the mother of the synagogues.
In the medieval Izmir, the Jewish population diminished so much that it could not be regarded as a community. When Izmir was conquerred by the Ottoman Empire in 1424, it is not certain that a Jewish community existed in the city. Despite the fact that there is data about the Jewish life style in the cities of the Aegean region, information about the Izmir Jewish people can only be seen in the early years of the 17th Century. In the writings of the historian Galante, it is stated that he saw a grave stone dated 1565 in Bahribaba Maşatlığı, which used to be a Jewish cemetery.
The organization of the community took place after 1625, in the leadership of Rabbi Jozef Eskapa, with the Jewish people who had lived in the surrounding towns such as Manisa and Tire, also in Selonica and Istanbul, then settled in the area since the city turned into a trade center towards the late years of the 16th Century. It is known that there were 6 synagogues in Izmir in 1620.
According to the information provided from the writings of various pilgrims, newspapers and then annuals, the Izmir Jewish community followed an inconsistent path. While the fires which broke out in 1743, 1772 and 1841, earthquakes occurred in 1688, 1778 and 1850 destroyed the Jewish neighborhoods and synagogues, plague and cholera outbreaks caused the population diminish. On the other hand, the population of the Jewish community increased in some periods with the immigration of Ashkenaz Jews from the Middle Europe and Russia to Izmir.
In the early years of the 20th Century, approximately 50 Synagogues and Midrashes (reading rooms) were used effectively. As a consequence of the immigration of about 30.000 Jewish people on account of economic reasons in 1908-1920 from Izmir to the United States of America and the Southern America, and the Israel immigration in 1948, the Jewish population in Izmir decreased to about 2500. Nowadays, the Jewish population in Izmir is approximately 1700.
The synagogues in Izmir basically express regional characteristics. People enter the main area of prayer through the Midrash and the Ehal has a triple structure. On both sides of the Ehal (bookcase of holy books) which is situated in the middle of the Eastern Wall, there are built-in-closets made in the same style, and they all contain holy books.
Another characteristic of the synagogues in Izmir is that they were built in central plan. The Teva (stand) is situated in the center of four columns which support the ceiling of the synagogue, and divides the ceiling and the synagogue into 9 sections. In later periods, the central plan was changed with double Teva structure which was placed in the sides of the Ehal.