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A Netflix series that tries to “heal the wounds of the past” for the Jews of Turkey

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A Netflix series set among Jews in Turkey has had an unexpected hit in the country, defying taboos and drawing audiences into a society that has long been neglected.

Turkish television series, often promoting government-sanctioned stories, have been a global hit that has made the country a major force on the world’s small screens.

It takes place in the fifties.

But the series “The Club”, which takes place in the fifties of the last century, is the first of its kind, especially since some of the dialogue it contains is Palladino, the language of the Jews of Istanbul derived from medieval Spanish.

After minorities once experienced periods of prosperity in the multicultural capital of the Ottoman Empire, the Jews of Istanbul have since suffered persecution and discrimination. The Jews preferred to hide their identity to protect themselves, adhering to the Turkish Jewish custom known as “kayadis” in the Ladino language, which means “silence”.

The history of the series

But the series “The Club”, which takes place in a nightclub on the historic European side of Istanbul, puts an end to this silence. The series deals with the attacks and persecutions that led many Jews, Greeks, and Armenians to leave Turkey in the 20th century, including the wealth tax imposed by the Turkish authorities on non-Muslims in 1942, as well as anti-minority riots. (the so-called “Istanbul Pogrom”) in 1955 that unleashed violence against all other minorities.

In a rare case of identifying art with reality, “The Club” became Netflix’s most-watched series in Turkey, coinciding with Ankara’s attempts to mend relations with Israel. After the two countries were historically close, relations between them were strained over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements that were described as anti-Semitic.

Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog paid a historic visit to Turkey earlier this month, during which he held talks with his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Herzog even visited the Istanbul neighborhood where “The Club” was filmed.

The series, particularly the scenes from the Istiklal Street riots in Istanbul in September 1955 when minority groups were attacked and their shops looted, sparked a fierce debate in the Turkish media and online about the need to confront history.

“No other television program has shown anti-Semitic events in this period in such a remarkable way,” said Silvio Ovadia, director of the Turkish Jewish Museum.

“This part of history is not taught in schools in Turkey, so many Turks learned about this time from the series,” explains Altaras.

According to Altaras, the series affected local Turkish politics. “It is no accident that the leader of the main opposition party has introduced in his campaign the quest to heal the wounds of the past, referring to the attacks on minorities,” he says.

Altaras believes that the series, which will return for a third season, shows the Turkish community that Jews are part of “the history of this country.” And he adds: “We already knew that, but it’s good that the Turks know that too.”


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