Documentary Screening of Hermana
On January 23rd the Yunus Emre Institute screened a documentary called Hermana: The Untold Story of Ankara’s Jewish Community. The institute chose this important story in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th. While thankfully the Ankaran community was not impacted by that tragic event, Yunus Emre Institute hopes that sharing the Ankaran community’s story will help honor the Jewish community in Washington and around the world. It was an incredibly successful screening event with light Turkish snacks and an exhibition of photos depicting Ankara’s Jewish community in the early 20th century. After the movie was finished the director, Enver Arcak, answered a few questions that the guests had about the movie and engaged in a larger discussion about the importance of faith and establishing a tight knit community.
The documentary commences with aerial shots of the buildings that Jewish people had lived in when there was a large Jewish community in Ankara. In 1492 thousands of Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition and migrated to the Ottoman Empire. The Jewish community in Ankara thrived for centuries as they cultivated both Turkish and Jewish identities. Arcak showed how the community started to dwindle in 1942 due to a significant wealth tax placed on both Muslims and non-Muslims. From their high of 5,000 individuals, their population shrank to only 200-300 by the 1960s and finally to only around 30 individuals today.
Guests enjoyed their trip back in time in the display of intimate photos from the first half of the 20th century. The pictures allowed them to have thoughtful discussions about how life then compares to life in the modern world while they enjoyed delicious Turkish food. After the documentary, the moviegoers complimented director Enver Arcak for bringing awareness to this community’s little-known story and asked questions about the making of the film, what it was like visiting the community, and how the community is handling being in diaspora. Arcak became interested in this project due to his previous work in urban archeology and the surprising lack of research on the Ankaran Jewish community. It took him years to find the names of surviving community members and their new homes. He interviewed people in Istanbul and Israel. Arcak initially only wanted to create an audio journal, but was astounded by the family photos that people were willing to provide for his project and shifted to making a full film.
Additionally, Arcak provided context that explained about the economic conditions that made the community migrate to Istanbul, Israel, and elsewhere after several questions concerning why the Jewish community felt compelled to leave. Public Relations Director Casey Kim added that Turkey is one of the few countries in the world where many different religions are practiced peacefully and Turkey also welcomed hundreds of Jewish refugees during WWII. The audience was very fortunate to hear stories from an elderly guest who grew up in a multiethnic Istanbul community. She talked about how her family had many friends in the Istanbul Jewish community, even one of the last Ottoman palace physicians. As the guests left, several hoped that stories from this documentary could help create understanding between the Jewish community and their neighbors around the world.
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