Turkish Jewish leader feared dead in earthquake

Community head Shaul Jenudi and his wife Fortuna are among the missing in Antika.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The head of the Jewish community in Antakya, Turkey, is feared to be one of the thousands of victims of the strong earthquake that centered in a province on the Turkish-Syrian border early Monday morning.

The house of Saul Cenudioglu and his wife, Fortuna, collapsed among many others in the city. Community members said that the couple had apparently been at home at the time of the disaster, and although they are now simply listed as missing, the general feeling is that they are no longer alive.

Ynet reported Tuesday that the Israeli embassy said the couple had died.

The head of the Turkish Ashkenazic community, Chabad emissary Rabbi Menachem “Mendy” Chitrik, told Ynet that except for the Jenudis, “the Jews of the city are OK.”

The local Jewish community is tiny, though, with fewer than 10 families, all of whom are elderly, so the loss of the couple would be a hard blow.

Chitrik, an Israeli-American who has lived in Turkey since 2001 and is also the chairman of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States, said that their synagogue barely survived the quake.

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“The synagogue isn’t in good shape,” he said. “There are cracks and drastic damage.”

He said that the Torah scrolls, which are 400 years old, were taken out for safekeeping, but added, “Who knows now when the community will return to this place?”

Antakya is the modern iteration of Antioch, the capital city of the Seleucid Empire. Jews have lived there throughout the centuries, with the current number having dwindled down to almost nothing in the last several decades.

There is currently no information about any possible Israeli casualties of the tremblor, which registered a dangerous 7.8 on the Richter scale. It has been followed by dozens of aftershocks, with the first few being very violent as well.

Irit Lillian, who became Israel’s ambassador to Turkey less than three months ago, told the media site, “The destruction is tremendous, and I don’t know what will become clear in the coming days. Like everyone, I pray and hope that there are no Israelis among the ruins and that as many Israelis as possible will be saved.”

She said that the Turks are grateful for the aid Israel is sending, including medical supplies, doctors, and especially its search-and-rescue teams.

“They remember from past earthquakes, for example in ’99, when Israel rushed to help and even managed to rescue people from the rubble several days later,” she said. “That experience is deeply engraved in their memories.”

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared a seven-day mourning period in his country. At least 3,400 people have been confirmed dead as of Tuesday morning, with over 20,000 injured. In northern Syria, the official death toll currently stands at approximately 1,600.

Thousands of buildings have collapsed in the region, and an unknown number of people are missing. Search efforts are hampered by the frigid weather, damaged roads and unreliable internet connections.

The World Health Organization has warned that the number of victims could reach as high as 20,000.