Rifat Mitrani, the town’s last Jew, visits the Great Synagogue during its restoration in Edirne, western Turkey, February 26, 2015. CREDIT: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER
(Reuters) – When the domes of Edirne’s abandoned Great Synagogue caved in, Rifat Mitrani, the town’s last Jew, knew it spelled the end of nearly two millennia of Jewish heritage in this Turkish town.
As a boy, Mitrani studied Hebrew in the synagogue’s gardens and, in the 1970s, dispatched its Torah to Istanbul after the community shrank to just three families. In 1975, he unlocked its doors and swept away the cobwebs to marry his wife Sara.
“Only I am left. It happens slowly, becoming the last one,” said Mitrani, 65,whose family fled here more than 500 years ago.
Now a five-year, $2.5 million government project has restored the synagogue’s lead-clad domes and resplendent interior ahead of its Thursday re-opening, the first temple to open in Turkey in two generations, but one without worshippers.
It is part of a relaxation of curbs on religious minorities ushered in during President Tayyip Erdogan’s 12 years in power.
Yet it coincides with a spike in anti-Semitism in predominantly Muslim Turkey and a wave of Jews moving away, say members of the aging community, which has shrunk by more than a third in the last quarter century…