Jewish community president and wife missing, feared dead, in Turkey following earthquake

Saul and Fortuna Cenudioglu's building is 'ruined'


The leader of a small Jewish community in southern Turkey and his wife remain missing among the collapsed remains of their building, their niece has told the JC

Rescuers have been searching for Saul and Fortuna Cenudioglu in Antakya since a giant 7.8 magnitude quake hit the region early on Monday and a second followed just hours later.

1,000 kilometres away in Istanbul, the couple’s family are “just waiting” for any news, Ela Cenudioglu said.

“Their building is ruined, especially their floor is ruined,” she told the JC.

“It looks ruined, but we don’t know [whether they survived].”

As time passes, fears that the couple will not be found alive have grown. Speaking to Israel’s Channel 12, ambassador Irit Lillian said: “Regrettably, the president of the Jewish community in Antakya, Saul Cenudioglu, and his wife, were apparently killed in the disaster.”

Although Istanbul remains largely unaffected by the earthquake, scenes of devastation have proved deeply moving.

“I’m traumatised,” Ms Cenudioglu said. “It looks terrible, all the places I was, all the places I had loved through my childhood, where I spent my summers, my parents house, is all gone now.”

“All this waiting,” she added, “is really hard.”

Despite a continuous presence in Antakya for over 2,500 years around just a dozen Jews remained in the Mediterranean city when the earthquakes struck.

Virtually all of the city’s Jewish community have now been evacuated to Istanbul, Naftali Haleve Sason, who works for the Turkish Chief Rabbinate, told the JC.

Other than missing community president Saul Cenudioglu and his wife Fortuna, the only remaining member is Mr Cenudioglu’s brother, who has stayed to assist in the rescue effort.

Evacuated members of the Jewish community have gone “through hell,” Ms Cenudioglu said.

The natural disaster, she added, means the Antakya community is now “finished.”

Istanbul Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, who travelled to the southern city on Tuesday to assist its Jewish community said on Twitter: “I can't even start describing the scenes in Antakya. Help is needed and is urgent.”

Photos posted by the Chabad emissary reveal complete destruction, with buildings reduced to little more than haphazard piles of debris. 

Antakya’s synagogue has been damaged but remains standing, Rabbi Chitrik said, after posting a video in which he can be seen rescuing Torah scrolls from the building.

The historic structure, Rabbi Chitrik claimed, “is not in a good condition, but it has not been completely destroyed. There are cracks and dramatic damage.”

Posting a photo of a damaged Torah storage room, another Twitter user added: “The end of a 2,500-year-old love story.”

At the moment, poor weather is currently delaying search efforts, Mr Haleve Sason told the JC.

Though there are likely no further Jewish casualties of the quake, the community has mobilised to collect aid for those affected.

Appeals by Jewish schools and institutions in Istanbul for supplies have received a “big response,” he added.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has now declared a state of emergency across ten Turkish provinces.

Announcing that the official death count had risen to 3,549, he said that 70 countries had offered help in search and rescue operations. The number of confirmed deaths in Syria has risen to 1,602.

Thousands of buildings have been toppled, schools and hospitals destroyed, and tens of thousands have been left homeless across Syria and Turkey following Monday’s dual earthquakes.

The 7.8 magnitude quake struck just after 4am local time on Monday morning, 23 kilometres east of Nurdagi in the southern Gaziantep province, and was followed just over 10 minutes later by a 6.7 magnitude aftershock, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was one of the strongest earthquakes to hit Turkey in the last century.

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