Pink Angels: Cultural reproduction through the therapies provided by a Jewish women's organization in Or-Ahayim Hospital in Istanbul

Thesis (M.A.), 2012

167 Pages







1. 1. Research Questions and Hypotheses
1. 2. Methodology
1. 3. Literature Review

2. 1. Foundations of Symbolic Interactionism
2. 2. Objects as Products of Symbolic Interaction
2. 3. Culture and Symbolic Interactionism
2. 4. Sample Studies on Health Issues, Care-Giving, and Symbolic Interactionism and the Pink Angels

3. 1. Jews in Anatolia
3. 2. Jews during the Reign of the Seljuks and the Ottoman Empire
3. 3. Contemporary Turkish Jews
3. 4. Institutions of Today’s Turkish Jewish Community
3. 5. Judeo-Spanish as a Language Spoken by the Majority of the Elderly Turkish Jews

4. 1. History of Or-Ahayim Hospital
4. 2. Philanthropic Activities of the Pink Angels
4. 3. History of the Pink Angels
4. 4. Becoming a Pink Angel and the Training of the Pink Angels
4. 5. Organization of the Pink Angels
4. 6. Dress Codes of the Pink Angels

5. 1. Spaces through Which the Pink Angels Pass in the Hospital
5. 1. 1. Room Reserved Only for the Pink Angels
5. 1. 2. Geriatric Unit and Therapy Room
5. 1. 3. Hospital Rooms
5. 1. 4. ‘ Mevlit ’ (Memorial Service) Hall and Its Kitchen
5. 2. Foods and Culture
5. 2. 1. Daily Diets and Symbolism in the Festive Foods
5. 2. 2. Symbolic Food Distribution
5. 2. 3. Mevlit (Memorial Service)
5. 2. 4. Shabbat as the Sacred End of the Week
5. 3. Therapies Provided by the Pink Angels
5. 3. 1. Chat Therapies
5. 3. 1. 1. Physical Exercises at the Beginning of Each Chat Therapy
5. 3. 1. 2. Chats on Dreams
5. 3. 1. 3. Chats on Human Relations
5. 3. 1. 4. Chats on Climate and Society
5. 3. 1. 5. Chats on Hope
5. 3. 1. 6. Chats on Love
5. 3. 1. 7. Chats on Health
5. 3. 1. 8. Chats on Altruism
5. 3. 1. 9. Chats on Fashion
5. 3. 1. 10. Chats on Justice
5. 3. 1. 11. Chats on Miracles
5. 3. 1. 12. Chats on Religion: Parshas on Saturdays
5. 3. 1. 13. Chats on Peace
5. 3. 1. 14. Language Use in the Therapies
5. 3. 1. 15. Finalizing the Chat Therapies
5. 4. Art Therapies




Appendix A: Tables
Table 1. Summary of the scripts to be referred in this study
Table 2. Summary of the medical theory of four humors of Hippocrates (a previous version of this table was used in Agiş 2007 and Agis [Agiş] 2009; however, the main source of this table is Gill 1999)
Table 3. Weekly menu of Or-Ahayim Hospital – January 31 – February 6, 2011
Table 4. Weekly menu of Or-Ahayim Hospital – February 7, 2011 – February 13, 2011

Appendix B: Tez Fotokopisi İzin Formu.


Gudio ki no ayuda a otro non ay” [“There is no Jew who does not help another”], as a Judeo-Spanish proverb says (Angel 2006:133). Jewish philanthropy in Istanbul led to the construction of a small health-care unit, and then a hospital where patients of different religions have been taken into care. The Jewish philanthropy exhibited by the Pink Angels is exemplary, since they accept that all human beings are sisters and brothers; Bernard Lewis mentions that all human beings are descendants of Noah, referring to the Hebrew Bible, as follows:

The name Semite comes from Shem, the eldest of the three sons of Noah. In the Greek and Latin versions of the Bible, Shem becomes Sem, since neither Greek nor Latin has anyway of representing the initial sound of the Hebrew name. The Bible tells us that everyone on earth was drowned except for Noah and his family and that all mankind are descended from his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The lines of descent from the three of them, described in Genesis, represent a kind of mythologized ethnology, enumerating the peoples of antiquity whose names were known at the time when this chapter was written, and setting forth the relationships between them.

According to the interpretation, Ham was the ancestor of the dark-skinned peoples of Africa, Shem of the Hebrews and their various cognates, and Japheth the ancestor of Medes, Persians, Greeks, and other peoples who, many centuries later, came to be known as Aryans [1999:42, emphases added].

Most of the Turkish Jews today, including the Pink Angels are Sephardim; therefore, the history of Turkish Sephardic Jews who were accepted by the Ottoman Emperor Sultan Bayezid II after their expulsion from Spain in 1492 for refusing to convert to Catholicism should be mentioned first: the Alhambra decree issued on March 31, 1492 by Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon forced Jews to leave the territories of the Kingdom of Spain (Lipman 2011). The Second Vatican Council revoked this decree on December 16, 1968 (Strayer 2011). These Spanish Jews settled in the Ottoman Empire where Romaniot Jews, who were originally from Byzantium, were residing (Besalel 1999:151). Additionally, Rozen mentions that several Ashkenazim whose ancestors were born in Europe might have arrived in the Ottoman Empire before the Sephardim, and they are called “kendi gelen” in Turkish [those who came for their own will] (2002:49). The descendants of the Jews, belonging to these three groups of Jews, who inhabited the same land, known as the Ottoman Empire, have been living in the Republic of Turkey since its foundation on October 29, 1923. Moreover, today all these Jews elect the Chief Rabbi of Turkey; thus, he represents the whole Turkish Jewish Community (Altabev 2003:55). Besides, the Karaites have been dwelling in some former Ottoman cities, which currently belong to the Republic of Turkey, for centuries. However, they deny the rabbinical law, since they do not believe in the Talmud, which involves oral ideas about Judaism, and they refer only to the Torah[1]: they settled in different countries, after they had rejected the rabbinical law accepted by the Babylonian Rabbinical Jews in the eighth century B.C.E. (Green 1984:170).

Besides, several Turkish Jewish charities and groups work under the guidance of the Turkish Chief Rabbinate. A Jewish women’s group called ‘ Pembe Melekler ’ in Turkish, and ‘Pink Angels’ in English is one of these groups. The group consists of approximately sixty women between forty and seventy years old that serve as volunteers in Or-Ahayim Hospital located in the neighborhood of Balat in Istanbul, Turkey. Here is some information about this Jewish hospital: a physician named Captain Rafael Dalmediko decided to found a small hospital; some other philanthropists and physicians joined him and established Or-Ahayim (this Hebrew name means “Light of Life” in English; originally, the Hebrew name is Or hahayim) Hospital as a tiny health care unit in order to serve the poor; this occurred as soon as Abdulhamit II had announced the related edict (Balat Or-Ahayim Hospital, History n.d.:4). Güleryüz mentions that each religious community was allowed to build their own hospitals in an edict on September 5, 1838: the Jews and the Karaim could build their own hospitals; however, they did not possess the required amount of financial resources; despite this difficulty, several people raised funds in Balat and a physician called Dr. Rafael Dalmediko worked so hard that the hospital could be established; consequently, Sultan Abdulhamit II permitted the construction of Or-Ahayim Hospital in an edict on February 16, 1896; it would be a three floor building with a kitchen and a laundry in the neighborhood of Karaağaç in Balat (2012:167). Moreover, all the details of the groundbreaking ceremony were published in the Stanboul newspaper on May 11, 1896 (Güleryüz 2012:167). A volunteer women’s group also existed in the hospital in the Ottoman period: they washed the dirty sheets, towels, et cetera (Apalaçi 2001:226). Women established a branch for the hospital in 1974; they were aiming at assisting the patients voluntarily (Apalaçi 2001:226), and Nuket Antebi, one of the ex-heads of the women’s branch changed the name of this branch into “Pink Angels” (Apalaçi 2001:231). Today the Pink Angels spend most of their time in a building known as the “Alegra Torel Geriatric Pavilion” opened in 2005, a four level building which consists of two therapy halls, twenty-six bedrooms, and forty-two beds (Balat Or-Ahayim Hospital, Geriatrics n.d.:20). Today this four level building, forming the geriatric pavilion, includes also a medical laboratory in addition to the huge therapy room and the dining room built in this section of the hospital.

Furthermore, the group of Pink Angels is divided into three subgroups: 1) the therapists, 2) the caregivers, and 3) those serving both as therapists and as caregivers. The Pink Angels reproduce the Turkish Jewish culture during each type of activity. La Fontaine posits that Western people must appropriate some moral and cultural values that will lead to social acceptance and appreciation, since their lives are temporary in the world (1985:124). This is also valid in relation with the cultural productions and social reproductions of the patients and the Pink Angels. As the patients become involved in these therapies, they imitate what their friends do, and reproduce the Turkish Jewish culture together with them. The chat, game, reading, handiwork, collective work, and painting therapies conducted by this group are analyzed in this study. In this thesis, the therapies during which the Pink Angels and the patients chat, play games, or read texts are analyzed under the title of chat therapies, and the other therapies during which some Pink Angels and the patients do handiwork, draw pictures, and collaborate in the creation of ornaments, while listening to the music sometimes are depicted in a section dedicated to art therapies.

Besides, therapies have transnational origins, since some of the Pink Angels go and observe similar kinds of therapies conducted with the elderly in Israel and apply whatever they have learnt there in Or-Ahayim Hospital. Furthermore, as Turkish Jews have lived in various countries before coming to the Ottoman Empire, they have transnational identities reflected in their characters, culinary traditions, beliefs, and customs influenced by those other places; Basch, Glick-Schiller, and Szanton-Blanc suggest that transnationalism consists of the “processes” through which immigrants preserve their “multi-stranded” social ties “that link together their societies of origin and settlement” (1994:7). Additionally, Konrad posits that people’s personalities are shaped by cultural traditions, since personality formation is a result of various social relationships (1998:645).

Therefore, this study refers to the theory of symbolic interactionism. Herbert Blumer coined the term of “symbolic interactionism” in a book chapter he authored in 1937[2] ; he explains the details of the theory he developed in his book entitled Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. This book was published in 1969. Blumer says that he was influenced mainly by his instructor, George Herbert Mead who regarded a human being as a social entity that has a self; however, he claims that Mead did not provide any methodological bases for observing the interactions between human beings (1995:263). In symbolic interactionism, the social psychological concept of “looking-glass self,” or in other words, “reflected self” developed by Charles Horton Cooley who thinks that human beings determine who they are in accordance with how the society in which they live perceive them is present (1902:152). In fact, cultural groups impose several rules upon a person: she or he has to obey these rules in order to be regarded as normal and accepted by society. For being accepted by society, the person takes also a specific role, as a Pink Angel, a therapist, a caregiver, a cook, a donator, et cetera. Moreover, according to Denzin, Blumer (1969) posits that “human group life” can be analyzed in relation with the scientific study of the “natural social world” through the “empirical” investigation of events” (1992:56). “Symbolic interaction” involves the investigation of the symbolic meaning of an action (Blumer 1969:8).

This study aims at analyzing the cultural reproductions of the Turkish Jewish women working as members of a group called ‘Pink Angels’ during their therapies for the elderly staying in the geriatric unit of Or-Ahayim Hospital in the quarter of Balat in Istanbul, Turkey by interpreting the symbolic actions underlying the objects they use in therapies, the meals they order the dietician to make the cooks prepare, the foods and the gifts they distribute, and their behaviors in tackling diverse situations.

1. 1. Research Questions and Hypotheses

This study observes how the group of ‘Pink Angels’ is organized and trained, and in which activities the members of the group are involved within the framework of symbolic interactionism. Some Pink Angels refer to some therapies, and this study investigates which therapy is conducted when, why, and how. The stories some Pink Angels narrate, the songs other Pink Angels, or professional singers sing, the articles, or the essays some other Pink Angels read to the patients, the physical exercises they practice together with the patients, and the artistic activities in which they make the patients get involved are analyzed in this study. As the Pink Angels are on duty on Sundays, the duties they perform on that day will also be mentioned. Additionally, this study investigates the symbolic meanings of the objects Pink Angels use and the symbolic interactions between them and the patients during the therapies. Thus, the physical, social, and abstract objects involved in the therapies in Or-Ahayim Hospital are analyzed and depicted in this study. The physical objects include the items used in the therapies, the warning signs, the decorations, the foods, and the icons used in the hospital. The social objects include the Pink Angels, the patients, and the hospital staff. The abstract objects are the ethical rules, the dress codes, and the moral and religious rules, messages, traditions, and practices; for instance, this study analyzes what kind of foods the members of the group of ‘Pink Angels’ distribute as physical objects, what the symbolic meanings of the foods that the group distributes are, which languages they use for being social objects, when and why they distribute specific foods for religious reasons, and which the underlying abstract objects are in this case. Moreover, the cultural meanings of the gifts that the members of the group of the Pink Angels offer to the patients will be explained. Therefore, the meanings of objects, the language uses, and the thought processes necessary for interpreting the events and the activities in which Pink Angels take part will be deciphered in this study.

Furthermore, this study tests five hypotheses. The first hypothesis of this study is that all the activities and duties performed by the Pink Angels in which they reproduce the Turkish Jewish culture lead to optimism and promote positive thinking among the patients who suffer from different diseases, since the patients perceive the Pink Angels as their true friends and they feel as if they were at home, since the Jewish culture is reproduced, and their memories are revitalized. Besides, the second hypothesis of this study is that all the foods cooked, distributed, or sold in the hospital and the gift baskets prepared by the Pink Angels eliminate negative thinking and harness positive thinking in relation with the positive symbols they involve. As well, the third hypothesis of this study is that a similar positive symbolism accompanies the dress codes, the ethical rules, and the hygienic principles applied in the hospital that make the patients take their dreams seriously linked to this seriousness alongside the stories the Pink Angels narrate, and the works of art that they request the patients to create and that impose positive thinking upon the patients. Additionally, a fourth hypothesis is that the Pink Angels talk about the beautiful and positive aspects of life instead of illnesses and death that may lead to depression, when they are in Or-Ahayim Hospital. Furthermore, fifth, this study hypothesizes that some symbols used during the therapies by the Pink Angels may lead to the attainment of world peace.

1. 2. Methodology

Blumerian symbolic interactionism requires participant-observation as a technique (Reynolds and Metzer 1973:190), since details regarding human interaction and symbols are very crucial in understanding certain cultural acts. The data of this study were gathered via participant-observation from January 31, 2011 through February 13, 2011 in relation with this requisite of symbolic interactionism for a short period of time. Kiefer explains that a researcher has to live among the members of a certain community for a long time, remaining “in a setting similar to the way they live” (2006:92). Moreover, Kiefer also suggests that before joining the community that the researchers are going to observe, they have to learn the community’s language and traditions, offer their “resources” to the community members by buying them certain dishes and providing them with certain ways of “transportation, skills, advice,” and so forth, and behave “as an equal in the collective activities of life – group work, recreation, rituals and celebrations, meetings,” et cetera, while “hanging around” in the field (2006:92).

I was usually an outsider as a participant observer. However, in some occasions, I assisted some Pink Angels in their activities, including participating in conversations, bringing objects to use during the art therapies, and feeding some patients who were not able to feed themselves by using their own tableware.

Moreover, some information was required about the previous festive celebrations and activities organized by some Pink Angels. Semi-structured interviews are ideal types of interviews successive for participant-observation (Cohen and Crabtree 2006). Therefore, semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with eight Pink Angels. I asked them about their ancestral origins, where they were living, how long they had been serving as Pink Angels, which languages they could speak in the hospital, what their roles were as Pink Angels, if they were participating in the therapies, which foods they were distributing when, what the requirements of becoming a Pink Angel were, how they decided to become a Pink Angel, which means of communication they were using for communicating, how they had been celebrating some Jewish and other feasts in the hospital, which foods they had wanted the dietician to order to be cooked, which gifts had been prepared for whom, how they had been reproducing the Turkish Jewish culture, what they were doing during the memorial services, what their most important life experiences were as Pink Angels, how they were choosing the texts to be read and the stories to be narrated during the therapies, how they were choosing the songs, if they had exhibited the works of the patients, and what kind of changes they witnessed in the hospital.

Furthermore, the hospital’s professional therapist, who was guiding the Pink Angels during the therapies, was interviewed about the structures of the therapies. The professional therapist was approximately forty years old, and the Pink Angels that were interviewed were between forty and seventy years old. Additionally, the two cooks and the dietician of the hospital were interviewed about the foods the Pink Angels were requesting the cooks of the hospital to cook, a rabbi was asked a few questions on prayers, and an e-mail was received from a Sephardic musician on the songs that he and the members of his group sing during the therapies. Both the therapies and the interviews with the Pink Angels, the rabbi, and the professional therapist of the hospital were recorded. As Atkinson suggests, first, the interviews were designed before the fieldwork; second, the interviews were conducted, and third, these were transcribed (2001:131).

In fact, all the interviews conducted were semi-structured. “Formal” interviews were conducted from an “interview guide” that had open-ended questions; the interviews were conducted during the lunch breaks after the therapies; thus, Cohen and Crabtree’s (2006) description of semi-structured interviews fitted this research.

Moreover, Fontana refers to Marcus and Fischer (1986) who suggest that an ethnographic fieldwork researcher should choose a “dialogic” method: the dialogues between the interviewees and me (the interviewer) show “how the ethnographic knowledge develops” (2001:164). As Atkinson proposes, “life storytellers offer highly personal meanings, memories, and interpretations of their own, adding to the artful contours of their life stories” (2001:131). The interviewees declared their identities alongside their life stories, respecting the reasons why they were interviewed and they described relevant events, as de Vries and Lehman (1996) mention. Besides, according to Reinharz and Chase, “the interviewing of women is not a “one-size- fits-all” type of activity”: businesswomen had a tendency to describe their duties and their contributions to the world in a more detailed manner than the timid housewives who were hesitating to talk about everything (2001:222). As Reinharz and Chase explain, strong women who have careers tend to speak up for being self-confident (2001:226). Accordingly, the Pink Angels who were running businesses or working for some companies and firms were more talkative than the housewives.

In addition to interviews, vintage photographs, books, and articles were analyzed, regarding the activities of the Pink Angels. Bateson and Mead (1942) suggested the use of photographs in anthropology. Thus, some photographs were observed, and some articles in the archives of the hospital, which belong to the Pink Angels, were read.[3]

1. 3. Literature Review

This section deals with some previous studies on the relationship between aging and anthropology. This section should be useful for understanding how this more recent study differs from some earlier studies. Medical anthropologists conduct studies on “the entire domain of health and medicine throughout the life-cycle”; regarding aging, they analyze the cultural ways of treatment of “the aged” and “the reasons for the differential status they are often accorded”; additionally, they observe “the relationships among physical functioning of the aged and their roles and functions in different societies,” and they are also interested in the promotion of the elderly health care within various cultural groups (Anonymous 1981:7).

This analysis demonstrates how this thesis on the Pink Angels will contribute to the elderly emotion treatment within a Turkish Jewish context where the importance of unity in diversity is emphasized. However, this thesis discovers the cultural aspects of the therapies conducted by some Turkish Jewish women in a Jewish hospital; neither the elderly health care systems nor the healing techniques are analyzed in this study.

On the one hand, a dissertation written by Yohko Tsuji, entitled Elderly Pioneers: A Cultural Study of Aging in America describes a senior citizens center where the elderly participate in various activities among which there are sports, handiwork, arts, and travels. The book was published in 1991. This study constituted a background for this current study that focuses on the symbolic representations of the Turkish Jewish culture alongside some universal human values in the geriatric unit of a Jewish hospital in Istanbul, Turkey.

On the other hand, Alam, who analyzed the elderly care systems in a Bangladeshi village, suggests that in Bangladesh, neighbors and villagers take care of the poor elderly; besides, Alam indicates that the elderly do not wish to live in nursery homes due to their fear of being isolated from their communities (2000:86-87). In this case, the Pink Angels assist the patients so that they can feel as if they were at home by celebrating Jewish feasts and reproducing the Turkish Jewish culture via different activities conducted during therapies. Additionally, the dishes cooked in the hospital represent the Turkish Jewish culture.

Moreover, Gelfand refers to Rosen and Kostick (1951) who suggested that the aged Jewish people live traumas, after having been separated from their communities; therefore, aged people should be allowed to visit their friends and relatives (1968:275). As it has been mentioned previously, during this study’s fieldwork, it was observed that the Pink Angels were trying to do their best for making the patients feel as comfortable as if they were at home by keeping them close to their communities and maintaining a peaceful environment for some patients whose beliefs may differ from theirs.

In addition, Frida Kerner-Furman (1997) published a book entitled Facing the Mirror: Older Women and Beauty Shop Culture. It is about old Jewish women coming to Julie’s international salon in Chicago; this book demonstrated how aging Jewish women were taking care of themselves. At this point, the Pink Angels would take care of the aging women in a Jewish hospital in Istanbul. They would cut the nails of the old women twenty years ago; as the number of members of the hospital staff increased today, some Pink Angels only offer combs and mirrors, or necklaces and bracelets as gifts to the old people who may like them. Besides, Kerner-Furman (1997) mentions that the beauty salon operates in accordance with the Jewish calendar: it is closed on Yom Kippur,[4] and an electric menorah[5] with shining candles is displayed on the window during the feast of Hanukkah.[6] The Pink Angels do not come to the hospital on Yom Kippur, but they celebrate the feast of Hanukkah with the patients in Or-Ahayim Hospital by requesting them to light the candles on a menorah. At this point, we should refer to Katz who says the following:

When we consider the human species, we have to be aware of an unusual age structure and aging processes both at the lower and upper ends of the human life cycle. In general, among humans, both young and very old tend to depend on those in the middle of the age structure [1978:3, correction added].

Lamb analyzed the status of the elderly in India (1997:281). In addition, Shield mentions that she wrote a dissertation on the relationship between aging and ethnomusicology: she conducted fieldwork in an American nursing home, “applying concepts of rites of passage, performance and reciprocity to understand the behavior and the perspectives of nursing home participants” (1998:11). In addition, Deutschman depicts her study in the following way:

Culture change has a different meaning for different organizations depending on where they are in the continuum of change. Detailed observation of staff members “in action” in three long-term care facilities over a period of several months was supplemented by formal and informal interviews of organization members to gain an understanding of the culture of the nursing home organization. Four three-hour observations in each of three facilities, representing privately-held and not-for-profit organizations in urban, suburban, and rural locations yielded insights into the routine, recruitment, training, teamwork, activities, leadership, role-modeling, mentoring, staff and resident satisfaction, weekend staffing and activities, bureaucratic structure, and sharing of best practices [2005:246].

In Or-Ahayim Hospital, every religious group is respected. Barbee proposes the following:

A recognition of racism in the nursing profession would allow Euro-American nurses to redirect the energy that they use in denying racism toward forming alliances and organizational goals that could result in changing power relations among women. Furthermore, they need to be concerned with the implications of differences among women’s experiences and with understanding the historical and political factors at work in those differences. Euro-American women who become involved in nursing and who adopt its values with respect to homogeneity and conflict avoidance must be prepared to accept the consequences of reproducing their own traditions and the means by which these traditions maintain racism in their profession and their society [1993:357-358].

Furthermore, De-Ortiz analyzes a Medicaid-funded home health care program for the elderly in New York City (1993:4); she conducted a survey and some interviews with people dealing with this program. Besides, concerning the similarities and the differences between the sciences of nursing and anthropology, Dougherty and Tripp-Reimer agree that nursing and anthropology have some common disciplinary approaches; these can be divided into four groups: (1) “human nature,” as nursing analyzes “human attributes, wholeness, and integrity” in the “human nature,” and sociocultural anthropology deals with the interactions between human beings; (2) “environment,” since nursing is concerned with the environmental effects on human behavior and development, whereas anthropology contributes to nursing with some “cultural assessment models”; (3) “health”; “medical anthropology” distinguishes between the concepts of “disease and illness,” while “nursing” discusses how health is perceived by the patients and the physicians; and (4) “nursing,” as “this element consists of nursing diagnosis and interventions”; anthropology was shaped by these “interventions” (1985:226-227).

Therefore, it was very beneficial to observe occupational therapy sessions where the Turkish Jewish culture was reproduced. However, this study differs from all of these previous ones, since it intends to analyze how the Turkish Jewish culture is reproduced in a Turkish Jewish hospital within the framework of symbolic interactionism. Besides, this study focuses on a volunteer Jewish women’s group conducting basic therapies with the elderly, respecting them. The symbolic structures of these therapies during which Jewish music is played, gifts are offered, works of art are constructed, et cetera play a crucial role in this study. As the elderly patients staying in the hospital witness the revitalization of their culture, they feel better, believe that they will get well soon, and regard the Pink Angels as their friends as long as they see that their own culture is reproduced and global moral values are mentioned.


In this thesis, the therapies and other services that the Pink Angels provide are analyzed within the framework of the theory of symbolic interactionism coined by Herbert Blumer (1969). Symbolic interactionism was founded on the bases of the works by Charles Horton Cooley, William I. Thomas, Robert E. Parks, Ernest W. Burgess, Florian Znaniecki, Ellsworth Faris, James Mickel Williams, William James, John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead (Blumer 1969:78). According to Blumer, these previous scholars could not arrive at a “systematic” method for observing the human group life within the framework of the theory of symbolic interactionism, and only Mead suggested some “methodological implications for sociological study,” positing that an individual possesses “a self” (1969:78-79). Two schools of interactionism were constructed: the first one’s precursor was Herbert G. Blumer, and it is recognized as the Chicago school, whereas Manford H. Kuhn founded the second known as the Iowa school; the Chicago school of symbolic interactionism defends participant-observation, whereas the Iowa school “the Twenty Statements Test” as a “paper-and-pencil” evaluation tool; besides, the Kuhnians defend “the determinacy of man’s behavior,” whereas the Blumerians suggest that human beings try to act appropriately enough to be accepted by the others with whom they must interact; additionally, Blumerians accept that human beings make roles in different situations; however, the Kuhnians argue that “the organized set of internalized self-attitudes provides ready-made patterns of role-playing for the individual” (Reynolds and Metzer 1973:189-190). According to different Chicagoan symbolic interactionists, individuals shape their identities in accordance with societal norms: George Herbert Mead (1967[1934]) proposes that an individual’s personality development and character formation are certain inevitable results of social interaction: the individual must obey societal criteria in order to be accepted by society. John Dewey (1934) posits that artistic works express various situations and interactions. Moreover, Erik H. Erikson (1950) suggests that the group identities of the children shape their ego-identities, as they grow. Anselm L. Strauss (1997) interprets the concept of ‘self’ within an autobiographical framework. Erving Goffman (1959) posits that one’s ‘self’ is an image created and perceived by the others just like an actor, a role-player in different settings and situations as in a drama. Blumer’s (1969) approach is employed in this study, since it is concerned with the roles various adults and elderly assume in different situations during some therapies rather than with the development and identity formation of children; additionally, it deals with the significance of objects and narratives rather than with detailed discourse analyses, some people’s extremely unexpected reactions to the daily acts of others, and their autobiographies.

Blumer (1969) was influenced by Mead (Becker 1988:17). Blumer posits that his professor and guide distinguishes between two different types of “social interaction in human society”: 1) Mead’s (1934) “the conversation of gestures” called “non-symbolic interaction” by Blumer (1969) and 2) Mead’s (1934) “the use of significant symbols” called “symbolic interaction” by Blumer (1969): the former occurs, if and only if a person acts “automatically” towards the act of another person without thinking, such as “a boxer who automatically raises his arm to parry a blow,” and the latter occurs, when a person interprets and reacts to the meaning of another person’s “action”; for instance, “a boxer” acts thinking about his rival’s gestures in a match (1969:8). Thus, “a gesture” is an act indicating what a person is going to do; it signifies something both for its maker and the individual whom it is addressed (Blumer 1969:9); for this reason, George Herbert Mead (1967[1934]) suggests that people take roles. Role-taking and role-making are two different attitudes that can be expressed as follows: role-taking consists of maintaining a ‘looking-glass self,’ thus, conceiving how the others perceive us and act appropriately (Cooley 1902 and Mead 1967[1934]). Role-making is the “process of improvising, exploring, and judging” how to behave in front of and respond to the actions and words of others, as Turner (1962) indicates (Peterson 1987:241). Besides, “role conflict occurs, in case a person has two or more societal roles towards a specific person or specific people and has difficulties in selecting which one to employ in a certain situation (Peterson 1987:246).

Moreover, several “premises and principles” become prominent in interpreting the actions of human beings in different situations (Blumer 1969:2). Mead suggests that one’s interaction with others leads to the formation of her or his “self” (1967[1934]:135-226).

2. 1. Foundations of Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic Interactionism is based on “three simple premises”: 1) “meanings”: “human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings that the things have for them”; 2) “social interaction”: “the meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with one’s fellows”; and 3) “interpretation”: “these meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretive process used by the person in dealing with the things” that she or he faces (Blumer 1969:2). Consequently, Nelson (1998) states that the core principles of the theory are “meaning,” “language,” and “thought.” According to her (1998), “meaning states that humans act toward people and things based upon the meanings that they have given to those people or things”; “language gives humans a means by which to negotiate meaning through symbols,” and “thought modifies each individual's interpretation of symbols,” and it is linked to “language” due to the silent “mental conversion” of the thinking individual that leads to the fact that she or he takes a role.

During the interpretation process, “the actor” identifies the significant “things” by thinking, as she or he “selects, checks, suspends, regroups, and transforms the meanings in the light of the situation” that this person encounters (Blumer 1969:5).

Additionally, “human groups are seen as consisting of human beings who are engaging in action” (Blumer 1969:6). “Group members” interact with each other in different situations (Blumer 1969:7). Certain objects affect the direction of the human behavior.

2. 2. Objects as Products of Symbolic Interaction

According to Blumer, three types of objects can be formed as some results of “symbolic interaction”: 1) “physical objects” (tables, “trees,” et cetera), 2) “social objects” (people who have social roles, such as teachers, mothers, rabbis, et cetera), and 3) “abstract objects” (“moral principles,” “ideas such as justice, exploitation, or compassion,” et cetera) (1969:10-11). One must understand the meanings of objects for interpreting people’s “actions,” since objects are “social creations” (Blumer 1969:11). Regarding the concept of “self,” a person “acts” in accordance with what “kind of object” she or he is for herself or himself (Blumer 1969:12).

Consequently, in other words, objects gain meanings in relation with how they are evaluated by people by interacting with them; thus, the theory is concerned with “objects” which have symbolic meanings and can be divided into three categories as (1) “physical objects,” such as the materials used and the items created in the handiwork therapies conducted by the Pink Angels; for instance, a pink ribbon alludes to love and affection towards an individual, whereas a green one to the love for nature; if the patients affix hearts onto the ribbons, the items created symbolize the love towards an individual, or the environment; (2) “social objects” include the people who are in the hospital for working, for being ill, or for accompanying or visiting a dear person who is suffering from an illness, such as the head physician of Or-Ahayim Hospital, the therapist Pink Angels, the patients in the geriatric unit, the dietician, the daughter of an old patient staying in the hospital, et cetera, and (3) “abstract objects,” such as ethical and religious rules and regulations (Blumer 1969:10-11); the hospital had its code of ethics for the medical staff, and the Pink Angels had to obey the rules assigned them by their group heads and the head Pink Angel. Besides, the oath they take before serving as Pink Angels is an abstract object. Human beings take different roles in order to show themselves as social objects (Blumer 1969:13). A Pink Angel can be a therapist, a mother, and a wife during different scenes of her life. The main principles of Blumer’s theory are as follows: (1) “meaning,” (2) “language,” and (3) “thought” (Nelson 1998). “Meaning states that humans act toward people and things based upon the meanings that they have given to those people or things”; “language gives humans a means by which to negotiate meaning through symbols,” and “thought modifies each individual’s interpretation of symbols. Thought, based-on language, is a mental conversation or dialogue that requires role taking, or imagining different points of view” (Nelson 1998). Blumer argues that “human interaction is mediated by the use of symbols, by interpretation, or by ascertaining the meaning of one another’s actions” (1969:180). Therefore, in certain situations, the Pink Angels take roles by regarding themselves in the same way as that in which others regard them; symbolic interactionism refers to the ways in which people use symbols for interacting.

On the other hand, a person makes the suitable role in front of others’ actions in certain situations and conditions for responding to these actions appropriately, as George Herbert Mead emphasizes that “cooperative behavior” may occur in human groups where some try to be accepted and welcomed by others (Saint Clair 1980:24).

During the process of ‘role-taking’ in terms of interpreting various objects, Cooley’s (1902) concept of ‘looking-glass/reflected self’ works, as one interprets her or his actions as interpreted by others (Blumer 1969:13). “The roles the person takes range from that of discrete individuals (the “play stage”), through that of discrete organized groups (the “game stage”) to that of the abstract community (the “generalized other”)” (Blumer 1969:13). Thus, an individual is regarded as “social” for “being a member of social species,” acting towards “social stimuli,” or responding to the demands of her or his group membership (Blumer 1969:14).

Moreover, “group life” requires “joint actions” (Mead’s “social act”) as different people come together in order to complete different tasks for realizing the same scope, such as the preparation and organization of “a family dinner” (Blumer 1969:19, 70). Mead’s (1934) suggestions demonstrate that “human group life was the essential condition for the emergence of consciousness, the mind, a world of objects, human beings as organisms possessing selves, and human conduct in the form of constructed acts” (Blumer 1969: 61).

Human society is based on a structure, since each individual belongs to a certain class and a certain cultural group and has specific societal duties. Furthermore, a society imposes certain rules upon a person to which she or he can ‘conform,’ or from which she or he can ‘deviate’ (Blumer 1969:74). The person shows her or his own attitude in front of different acts performed by others, interacting with them in different places and situations. “The attitude is conceived to be a tendency, a state of preparation, or a state of readiness, which lies behind action, directs action, and moulds action” (Blumer 1969:93).

2. 3. Culture and Symbolic Interactionism

The Polish Peasant in Europe and America by William Isaac Thomas and Florian Witold Znaniecki (1996[1918–1920]) depicts the Polish peasant community’s family life as that of immigrants in the United States in the early 1900s: the book analyses the ‘role-making’ and adaptation processes of Polish immigrants. Thus, the theory of symbolic interactionism is convenient for the analyses of cultural formations and transformations.

Ernest Burgess (1926) suggests that people who have different personalities interact in a family. Each child learns cultural habits, religious norms, and traditions in her or his family via an intense interaction process. If a person is called ‘respectful’ for performing a certain action, she or he will see herself or himself as respectful; ‘I’ is how a person perceives herself or himself, and ‘me’ is the way in which the others with whom this person interacts see her or him (Mead 1967[1934]:209); “self-concept” is “the image we have of who and what we are”; moreover, “self-fulfilling prophecy” is “the tendency for our expectations to evoke responses in others” that authorizes us to act in a certain manner; furthermore, a symbol is “significant,” if its meaning is shared by a person and the others around her or him; additionally, a person employs “symbols” so that others can act towards these, and this is recognized as “symbol manipulation” (Symbolic Interactionism Theory: Adapted from Scott Plunkett’s Course Pack n.d.).

2. 4. Sample Studies on Health Issues, Care-Giving, and Symbolic Interactionism and the Pink Angels

Before passing to the chapter on the analyses of the actions performed by the Pink Angels, it should be appropriate to mention some previous studies on the application of the theory of symbolic interactionism to care-giving. Dupuis found out the following:

Family members who were more likely to define their caregiving as leisurelike described a perceived freedom in care rather than an obligation to care. They also described three rewards they received in their caregiving roles: sense of enjoyment in care, sense of connectedness to others in care, and sense of escape or separation in care. Leisure was much more likely to be experienced in the midphases of the institution-based caregiving career [2000:259].

Moreover, Figueroa depicts a “framework” where “symbolic interaction family theory” and “spirituality” should be helpful for the “health care professionals” and “nurses” who serve African American alcoholics or drug abusers (2008:37-40).

My study differs from all these studies in analyzing how the Pink Angels work voluntarily for giving care to the elderly staying in Or-Ahayim Hospital via cultural reproductions. The Pink Angels also establish their group identities and prove their “group presence” from a symbolic interactionist perspective:

1) They have a “group identity”: they have a name, and they have an angel logo in front of their door;
2) They “stipulate justifications for existence and operations” (they have some rules);
3) They have identity markers, such as uniforms, identity cards, and foulards;
4) They are ‘selective’ about group members;
5) They “establish their public presence” by appearing in articles mentioning that they celebrated a feast, visited a mayor, or won an award;
6) They have “credentials” for “legitimizing the group publicly”; and
7) They work voluntarily in Or-Ahayim Hospital, if we think how they ‘demarcate a territory’ (see Prus 1996:162 for the related terminology) by committing the following acts:

- Developing a group identity (name, logo, flag)
- Stipulating justifications for existence and operations
- Creating identity markers for members (uniforms, appearances, signs)
- Defining exclusiveness (selectivity, oaths, codes, jargons)
- Establishing a public presence (announcements, advertising, rallies, protests)
- Legitimating the group publicly (endorsements, credentials, charters, licences)
- Demarcating territories and jurisdictions (buildings, places, locations) [Prus 1996:162].

According to Prus, long-lasting groups get involved in the following for realizing the specific aims of the groups; as do the Pink Angels:

- Anticipating the value of collective enterprise
- Involving others in the venture (recruitment, screening, minimizing reservations)
- Justifying the group (developing perspectives, moral viewpoints)
- Celebrating the venture (witnessing, recognizing, emphasizing-within the group)
- Defining the team (membership criteria, positions, responsibilities)
- Establishing communication forums (interpersonal, media)
- Pursuing resources for the group
- Arranging member assemblies (encounters, practices)
- Providing instruction for members (perspectives, techniques)
- Monitoring members
- Assessing member performances
- Motivating and disciplining members
- Rejecting and reinstating members
- Facing internal upheaval (splintering, factions, challenges from within)
- Facing generalized loss of interest
- Dealing with dissolution
- Attempting to revitalize cooperative ventures [1996:161] .

Besides, regarding the ways in which the Pink Angels deal with outsiders, one can also refer to Prus who mentions the following:

- Representing the association(’s interests)
- Making contact with outsiders (establishing co-presence, making the scene)
- Defining the theatre of operation (places, objectives, strategies)
- Identifying outsiders (targets, cooperators, adversaries, witnesses, nobodies)
- Pursuing associational objectives through the others (cooperation, influence work)
- Confronting outsiders (challenges, competitions, conflicts)
- Protecting (sometimes concealing) the association from the outsiders
- Readjusting group routines to more effectively deal with the outsiders [1996:163].

On the one hand, Goffman proposes that “primary frameworks” consist of “a system of entities,” “postulates,” “rules,” ideas, perceptions, and views, whereas “social frameworks” lead to the ability to comprehend the aims, scopes, motivations, and criteria of the performers of some actions (1974:21-22). On the other hand, scripts are “knowledge structures that are particularly designed for frequently recurring event sequences” (Ungerer and Schmidt 1996:213-214). Roger Schank, a computer scientist, and Robert Abelson, a social psychologist (1977) developed the [RESTAURANT] script that consists of four scenes: a) entering, b) ordering, c) eating, and d) exiting; the props include the table, the menu, the foods, the bill, and the money; the roles belong to the customer, the waiter, the cook, the cashier, and the owner; the entry conditions consist of the facts that the customer is hungry and has some money: in the entering scene, the customer “enters the restaurant, looks for a table,” chooses a chair, “walks to the table and sits down on a chair,” et cetera (Ungerer and Schmidt 1996:214).

In our frame of the hospital, we have the Pink Angels as figures (agents), the seniors as patients, their acts as motions, the targets of their actions as paths, the ways how they perform their duties as manners, and Or-Ahayim Hospital as a unique ground, choosing the cognitive linguistic framing approach in order to apply it to symbolic interactionism. A motion event requires a direction, a path indicated via a preposition, or a postposition, a figure as the subject of a sentence, a manner depicting how the act was performed, and a ground, a place where the act takes place (Ungerer and Schmidt 1996:237-238). By referring to scripts, I summarize where I will apply the theory of symbolic interactionism.

All the therapies and philanthropic activities form a script, for instance, the [CHAT THERAPY SCRIPT], or the [PASSOVER SCRIPT]. Objects used in therapies and the foods distributed by the Pink Angels can be divided into categories, and the warning signs used in the hospital can be referred to as icons. Table 1 in Appendix A shows the symbolic interaction between certain human and non-human objects, concerning the joint actions of the Pink Angels from a cognitive anthropological perspective.


3. 1. Jews in Anatolia

Jews have been living in Anatolia for centuries. They started to move to and settle in the Aegean parts of Anatolia under the Roman guidance in the fourth century B.C.E; they populated the Black Sea region of Anatolia in the second century B.C.E.; when the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., they immigrated to the “central” and southeastern parts of Anatolia, and established their living in different places near the cities of Bursa and Konya (Shaw 1991:15). Galanté (1995) mentions that in 325 B.C.E., Alexander the Great transferred some Jews to today’s Izmir from Palestine; above all, some Jewish communities were existing in Ephesus, Rhodes, Antalya, Dinar, Bergama, Bursa, Ankara, Edremit, Denizli, Sardes, and several other small places in Anatolia before the common era, thus, before the birth of Jesus Christ (Besalel 1999:17-18). By the way, only twelve percent of the population of the Roman Empire was Jewish; however, some Greeks were accusing the Jews of being so dire that the Holy Temple could be destructed due to their malevolent acts (Shaw 1991:16). These accusations led to violent activities performed against the Jews.

In fact, when Romans started to convert to Catholicism successive to the Edict of Milan,[7] they began to discriminate Jews by denying them to work as military or administrative staff or board members; besides, bigot people had attempted to assault not only them as hated human beings, thus, personae non-gratae, but also their edifices; in the city of Constantinople in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire), the Jews were bullied by radical Christians (Shaw 1991:16). Moreover, Constantine II demanded taxes from the Jews who were not also permitted to marry non-Jews, possess non-Jew slaves, or circumcise the slaves (Besalel 1999:18). Arcadius prohibited the Jews to change their religion; furthermore, Theodosius II who began to rule in 408 did not permit the Purim celebrations and prevented the construction and restoration of synagogues; instead, he ordered the destruction of the synagogues in the Empire; in addition, Justinian I continued to impose religious restrictions upon the Jews by declaring the superiority of the church of Hagia Sophia that was opened in 537 as a sacred space; as well, Justin II transferred a synagogue into a church in 569; Jews were killed during the reign of Fokas between 602 and 610; Justinianos II declared that Christians and Jews should have gone to different baths; during the reign of Basil I (867-886), Jews were forced to change their religion; some of the Jews found shelter in Hazaria in 944 due to some restrictions posed, when Romanius I was the king; Andronik who reigned between 1183 and 1185 employed anti-Semitic discourses against the Jews; in 1347 an epidemic of plague occurred, and Jean Paleologue and Jean Kontakuzen (1341-1391) accused Jews of causing this disease and ordered their murder (Besalel 1999:18-19; Nahum 1997:77). In the Byzantine Empire, most Jews were traders who imported goods from further lands: they imported “spices, perfumes, and pearls from India, silks from China, and precious stones and oil from Iran” (Shaw 1991:17).

The synagogue in which the Jews were attending services in Constantinople “was transformed into a church”; moreover, Emperor Theodosius II of the East Roman Empire expelled all the Jews in 422 cruelly (Shaw 1991:17). He (between 408 and 450) even forbade the Jews to celebrate the feast of Purim, proposing that it was damaging ‘the Christian identity’ (Shaw 1991:18; Galanté 1940:12).

If we check the Bible, Kings II (17:5-6), we see that the Jews were expelled from the Holy Land of Israel to Halah, close to Harran, Habor, some neighborhoods around the rivers of Gozan and Euphrates, and cities bordering with Assyria (Galanté 1937:245). During the reign of the Byzantine Empire, the Jews founded communities in today’s Turkey’s cities of Van, Afyonkarahisar, Gelibolu, Izmit, Sinop, Amasya, Tokat, Kasaba, Tarsus, et cetera (Besalel 1999:19). Finally, the oppression caused by the Greeks and Romans would be over.

3. 2. Jews during the Reign of the Seljuks and the Ottoman Empire

The Byzantine Empire collapsed as a result of the Battle of Manzikert in 1071; the Turkomans defeated the Byzantines, and settled in Anatolia (Shaw 1978:11). The Seljuks ruled over Anatolia between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, after having defeated the Byzantines (Galanté 1940:73). Jews participated in the establishment of the Eastern branch of the dynasty during the periods in which Tuğrul, Alparslan, and Melikşah reigned; the dynasty was divided into principalities in the period of Ilkhanids; the Jews established communities in Konya, the capital city of the Principality of Caraman, Antalya, a land belonging to Hamidids, Milas, a land belonging to the Principality of Menteşe, the cities of Samsun and Sinop, and the zones near these, where Jandarids were reigning, and the town of Tire, belonging to Aydinids (Besalel 1999:20). The Ottoman principality was founded in northern Phrygia, which was between the contemporary cities of Eskişehir and Iznik, by Osman and his progenies (Shaw 1978:10-11). The founder of the Anatolian Ottoman dynasty was regarded as Ertuğrul Gazi who fought against the Byzantines and the Mongols; the Mongols attempted to enter “eastern Anatolia”; Ertuğrul deceased about 1280, and his son succeeded him in the “leadership of his portion of the Kayı tribe” (Shaw 1978:13, emphasis added). However, Shaw accepts that Osman was “the founder of the Ottoman dynasty” (1978:13). Orhan, the son of Osman succeeded him, and ruled over Anatolia between 1324 and 1359 (Shaw 1978:14-15). The most important contribution of Orhan Gazi is the fact that he took Bursa in 1324 (Besalel 1999:20). Orhan was the one who “created in turn endowments (vakıf)” in order to “support the activities of the ahi brotherhoods as well as Sufi mystic orders” (Shaw 1978:15). In 1357, Gallipoli was conquered, and the Byzantines lost their control over Anatolia (Galanté 1940:79). During the reign of Murat Hudavendigar I, the Ottomans took Edirne in 1363, and declared it as the capital of the Ottoman Empire; successively, the Jews opened a yeshiva in this city; Murat II (1421-1451) had armies that consisted of non-Muslims; in addition, Ishak Pasha, the physician who took care of Murat II was Jewish (Besalel 1999:20). Hungarian, French, Bavarian, and Italian Jews came to live in Edirne; as well, Karaim from Byzantium were escaping from persecution; as Fatih Sultan Mehmet (Mehmet II) was willing to increase the Jewish population in Istanbul, he transferred both groups there in 1453; however, Kanuni Sultan Süleyman sent the Jews from Budin to Edirne after the conquest of Hungary; besides, some Sephardim settled in the city after the expulsion of 1492 during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II (Haker 2006:23). The names of the thirteen Jewish communities formed in Edirne were the following: Aragon, Catalonia, Majorca, Grand Portugal, Little Portugal, Polya (Italian), Tolya (Spanish), Gerona (Spanish), Istanbul, Budin (Hungarian), Italian, Sicilian, and German (Bavarian) (Onur 2005:18).

Bayezid I was in power between 1889 and 1402 (Shaw 1978:28). However, he was not successful.

Another charismatic military genius, Temür, or Tamerlane as he is known in Western literature, unified the Turkic nomad armies to create the last of the great steppe empires, stretching from central Asia to the Black Sea and claiming the Mongol mantle of the Ilkhans. Temür conquered Iran in 1387, entered Baghdad in 1393, and sacked Delhi in 1398. Bayezid met utter defeat at the hands of Temür’s forces in the Battle of Ankara in 1402 and was himself taken prisoner. Resentment of Bayezid’s moves toward centralization of authority, including raising a slave army and beginning the registration of both agricultural lands and nomadic herds, drove the Anatolian Turkish begs Bayezid had so recently defeated into the arms of the central Asian conqueror [Douglas 2001:39].

Subsequently, Mehmet I who reigned between 1413 and 1420 signed “peace agreements” “with the Balkan Christian States as well as with Venice and Genoa to gain the time needed to restore the Ottoman strength” (Shaw 1978:41). Murat II who reigned between 1421 and 1451 empowered the state and the army so efficiently that his son Mehmet II could extend the borders of the Ottoman Empire (Shaw 1978:44). Cohen suggests that in the Ottoman Empire, the Jews were recognized as members of the same “crew,” thus, tā’ifa; they were also called “al-yahūd” (“the Jews”), or mentioned as either “the dhimmi” (dhimm, dhimma), or “the Jewish dhimmi” (al-dhimm al yahūd)” (1982:8). However, Lewis states that people who believe in a “lawful” religion, thus, who follow “sacred scriptures” revealed to prophets, were accepted by Muslim states in the Middle East; hence, they “were admitted to the dhimma, a pact between the Muslim state and a non-Muslim community, by which the state conceded certain privileges and the community accepted certain duties and constraints” (1999:120). He also adds that a dhimmī is a person who has a dhimma (1999:120). Thus, the assignment of the “dhimmi status” to non-Muslims was based on who was reigning in that period and their negation of “the Holy Law of Islam” (Braude and Lewis 1982:28). The term millet can be translated as ‘nationality’: it is used for the different religious and ethnic communities in the Ottoman Empire (Olson 1976-1977:72). This community system led to the establishment of the chief rabbinate in the Ottoman Empire; Moses Capsali (1420–95) and Elijah Mizrahi (1496–1526) were the first chief rabbis (Aydıngün and Dardağan 2006:320). Moreover, the Jewish congregation is explained as follows:

The Jewish community was the congregation (in Hebrew kahal; in Turkish cemaat). The kahal was formed by families settled close to a synagogue. It was a closed community composed of families with a common place of origin, shared cultural and religious beliefs, and a common language. Each kahal freely elected its religious leader (rabbi / haham). The rabbi had many duties and responsibilities towards members of the kahal such as conducting marriage, funeral and circumcision ceremonies [Aydıngün and Dardağan 2006:322, emphases added].

Olson suggests that the Ottoman Jewish community consisted of “the Rabbanites and Karaites” before the arrival of the Sephardim from Spain after their expulsion in 1492 (1979:76). He also mentions that the Ashkenazi Jews formed another group; according to him, the Sephardic Jews became prominent for “their skills and language abilities” among the other Jewish groups in the Ottoman Empire (1979:76).

In 1453, Mehmet II took Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), and changed the state to an Empire that became a bridge between the East and the West (Shaw 1978:56-57). “Muslims, Armenians, Jews, Greeks, Slavs, and others came from all parts of the empire” in order to rebuild Istanbul, since the city was demolished “during the later centuries of Byzantine rule” (Shaw 1978:59). His son Bayezid ruled over the Ottoman Empire between 1481 and 1512 (Shaw 1978:70).

However, we should keep in mind that the Ottoman Empire had been extending its borders continuously; in the end, it consisted of “parts of Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and the plains of Asia Minor in the east, the Balkans (today’s Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, the old Yugoslavia, and Albania) to the outskirts of Vienna in the west, and parts of North Africa and Egypt in the south” (Altabev 2003:39). Spanish Jews initiated to come to the Ottoman Empire in 1492, since the Catholic monarchs of Spain, Queen Isabella of Castile, King Ferdinand of Aragon, and their Prime Minister Torquemada forced the Spanish Jews out of Spain given that they had not accepted to be Spanish Catholic Christians (Gerson-Şarhon 2007:22). Altabev suggests that these people are recognized as Sephardim, since the word of Sepharad means Spain in Hebrew, and the word alludes to the people who are from Spain (2003:37). However, the name Sepharad exists also in the “Holy Scriptures (Obadiah 1:20) applied to a region around Sardis, where Jewish exiles were deported after the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar” (Musevi Cemaati [Jewish Community] 2011, emphasis added).

According to Gilmer, Jews from Portugal came to the Ottoman Empire in 1497 (1986:16). Besides, in the sixteenth century, the cores of Ottoman Jewish life became “Istanbul, Salonika, Edirne, and Safed” (Barnai 1990:21). At this point, some other Jews were also living in the Ottoman Empire. Romaniot Jews were its “native Jews” (Altabev 2003:41). They were descending from the Jews of the Byzantine Empire who had been living in Edirne, Tekirdağ, and Izmit (Besalel 1999:151).

Moreover, Rozen mentions that the Ashkenazi Jews who came to the Ottoman Empire from European Christian countries are recognized as “kendi gelen,” since they arrived to this new land “of their own will” – this is the English counterpart of the Turkish phrase (2002:49).

Concerning the Karaites, their religious beliefs are based on the Hebrew Bible and other Hebrew scriptures; however, they reject the rabbinic discussions (Lowenstein 2000:13). In fact, many Ottoman Jews introduced various novelties to the Ottoman Empire; these include “printing, medicine, arts, trade, and manufacturing industries” (Altabev 2003:43). Two brothers called David and Samuel Nahmiyas founded a publishing house on December 13, 1493; they continued to found other printing houses all around the Ottoman Empire (Besalel 1999:24). The Tanzimat [Administrative] Reforms realized by Mahmut II (1784-1839) were aiming at modernizing “the military and the governance”; during this period, France’s political system continued to have an impact on the modernization of the Ottoman Empire; as did it during the period of Selim III who was the previous emperor of the Ottoman Empire (Altabev 2003:46). Additionally, the Imperial Rescript of Gülhane declared in 1839 secured the legal equality of all the citizens of different religions of the Ottoman Empire (Aydıngün and Dardağan 2006:323). In this period, the schools of l’Alliance Israélite Universelle [the Universal Israeli Alliance] played a crucial role in the westernization of the Turkish Jews and the wide-spread use of the French language by them for creating a class of highly educated Turkish Jews (Haleva 2005:97). A team that consisted of French Jews established the Alliance in 1860 (Angel 2006:157). It opened its first school in Tetuan in 1862; it opened also two other schools: the first in Volos (1865), and the second in Edirne (1867) (Angel 2006:158). Successively, other Alliance schools were founded in Istanbul, Izmir, and various smaller Ottoman cities that belong to Syria, Egypt, the Balkans, and North Africa today (Sachar 2005:144). The organization aimed at modernizing the Jews and rendering them economically successful (Abrevaya-Stein 2002:226). The Alliance contributed to the formation of highly educated and modern Jews “before 1918” (Laskier 1983:165).

However, conflicts between different religious groups in the Ottoman Empire occurred: in April 1885, a Greek grocer’s cross hung on the doorstep was found as “polluted” in the neighborhood of Haydarpaşa in Istanbul: Greeks attacked Jews; Osman Pasha, “the minister of war,” intervened the case (Dumont 1982:222). Moreover, the Jews, who had settled in the regions of Anatolia, populated mainly by Kurds, were victims of religious bigotry based on some evil superstitions due to ignorance: if it had not rained in the spring, or in the autumn in time, Kurds would “cut off the heads” of the dead bodies of the Jews buried in the cemeteries, and throw these into the river so that it could rain (Dumont 1982:224).

The Ottoman Empire collapsed after participating in the First World War (1914-1918) together with Germany, and the Empire and its allies lost the war; after the Empire’s breakdown, “the Republic of Turkey” was established on October 29, 1923 (Howard 2001:80, 81, 84, 93). Before the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed “in July 1923” (Howard 2001:89). Consequently, Turkey accepted the rights of non-Muslims living within its borders and permitted them to establish their schools, institutions, and foundations. In 1924, the Islamic schools known as madrassas were banned, and the Ministry of National Education was assigned the duty of managing the religious education curricula; this action was taken obeying “the law on the unification of education” (“tevhid-i tedrisat kanunu” in Turkish) (Bein 2006:298). In addition, Cagaptay indicates that “the 1924 Constitution” of Turkey forbade religious and ethnic discrimination among its citizens before the law; however, the government wanted to integrate the Jews into the Turkish culture, as well (2004:87): Turkey determined that the Jews living within the borders of this “new” republican country should have used “Turkish as their primary language of instruction and the Alliance Israélite Universelle withdrew from Turkey” (Newberry 1991:529, emphasis and correction added).

Besides, in 1926, “the Jewish Community renounced its minority status on personal rights” (Güleryüz 1996-2011). Some Turkish newspapers indicated that 300 Turkish Jews had expressed their love and gratitude for Spain in a telegraph sent to Spain for celebrating the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus; Jews were accused of being infidel to Turkey in some news published in several newspapers; for this reason, they declared that they were faithful to Turkey literally by showing that they were Turkish citizens by giving up the rights they obtained as a result of the Lausanne Treaty (Levi 1998:70-73).

Furthermore, the racist and xenophobic political views of Adolf Hitler and the Nationalist Socialist Party, which started to govern Germany on January 30, 1933, were very alarming for the Jews, who would have been isolated from the rest of the whole world; several Jews tried to reach Palestine either legally or illegally (Bali 2004:223). Turkey assisted selected Jews to escape from the dreadful holocaust that occurred in Germany due to Hitler. At this point, we can talk about some attempts to save the Jews from death. Several Jewish immigrants escaping the Nazism were gathered from different parts of Europe, and they got on a ship called Parita in order to reach Palestine; the ship tried to reach the shores of Izmir, however, a war ship belonging to the Turkish Marines prevented her to reach Izmir, considering that epidemic diseases might have occurred; Aliyah Beth, a Jewish Czech philanthropic group, which moved to Paris, after Czechoslovakia had been invaded by Nazis, contacted the Turkish authorities in order to prevent a disaster in 1939; the ship sailed to Palestine in a safe manner (Bali 2004:226).

Furthermore, Turks saved many Jewish scholars: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the minister of education Reşit Galip demanded German and Austrian Jewish professors to come to work for Turkish universities (Shaw 2002:246). All of these invited professors contributed to the development of Turkey; for instance, Ernst Reuter led to the creation of the field of urban planning, whereas Paul Hindemith the establishment of the State Conservatory of Music in Ankara; the Museum of Ethnography was reconstructed via the efforts of a Hittotologist, namely, Hans G. Güterbock; Albert Eckstein conducted researches in the field of pediatrics, while Alfred Marchionini became prominent in the field of dermatology (Tachau 2002:243-244). George Rohde whose wife was Jewish used to teach Classics at Ankara University, after having settled in Turkey in 1935, and together with Hasan Ali Yücel, who was the minister of education, he launched a program in relation with the translation of major works in ancient languages, including Latin and Greek, and European languages into Turkish: several works in Latin, Ancient Greek, German, French, English, Russian, and Italian were translated into Turkish from 1940 through 1950; moreover, some other works in Persian and Arabic were also translated into Turkish for the Turkish readers (Reisman 2006:70). A few Turkish diplomats managed to help Jews escape from the cruelty of Nazism; on December 13, 1989, Salahattin Ülkümen, who used to be the Turkish consul-general on the island of Rhodes was honored with the award and recognition of “Righteous Among the Nations” by the Yad Vashem, “the Jerusalem’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority” for intervening the deportation of the Jews on “the Nazi-occupied Greek island of Rhodes” to Auschwitz in order that they could not be victims of a mass murder (Reisman 2009:235-236). “As a neutral power whose friendship was valued by Berlin and Vichy, Turkey was placed in a unique position where it was able to provide assistance to Jews who were being persecuted throughout Nazi-occupied Europe” (Shaw 2002:247). Turkish diplomats in Vichy, Paris, and Marseille had saved a myriad of Jews from death camps since 1941 (Shaw 2002:247). In 1944, Turkey suspended its every type of rapport with Germany, and allowed Jews to come to Turkey from Greece, France, Italy, Belgium, and Holland; Turkey saved the lives of Bulgarian and Romanian Jews by helping them go to Palestine (Levi 1998:149). Mussolini fell in Italy, and the Germans occupied it in September 1943 (Shaw 2002:254). Turks helped Jews escape from massacres; several Turkish fishers saved a myriad of Jews, and the Jewish community of Izmir saved several Jews and placed them in the Grand Leblebicioğlu Han (Levi 1998:150). Hungarian Jews were saved from mass murders via efforts made in Turkey (Levi 1998:151).

The Jewish Agency was also involved in what Turkey did to help East European Jews flee from persecution in countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria. Right from the start of the war, Turkey permitted the Jewish Agency to maintain a rescue office at the Pera Palace and other hotels in the Tepebaşı section of Istanbul under the direction of Chaïm Charles Barlas, one of the Agency’s leading officials [Shaw 2002:256].

Furthermore, as Roberto Morozzo della Rocca (1987) explains, “Monseigneur Angelo Roncalli, the papal nuncio, who later became Pope John XXIII” used to serve as the representative of Vatican in Istanbul between 1935 and 1944, and he issued “false certificates of baptism to save them from the Nazis” (Shaw 2002:257, emphasis added).

Chaim Barlas and Nuncio Roncalli played an important role in the matter of the “Auschwitz Protocols” which represented the first insiders’ report about the mass murders taking place at Auschwitz. The report was based on information provided by two escapees from the camp in 1944 [Reisman 2009:223, emphases added].

Moreover, Salamon Adato, a Turkish Sephardic man, who studied in the Alliance school in Edirne and Mekteb-i Sultani, thus today’s Galatasaray High School, graduated in 1912, and was accepted to the Law School at Istanbul University (Dâr’ül fünûn), and at a later time, he earned his doctorate in Law at the University of Paris; he was elected as a deputy of the Democratic Party (Demokrat Parti) in 1946 (Bali 2004:59). Samuel Abrevaya, the honorary president of Or-Ahayim Hospital, used to be an independent deputy, after having been elected on March 1, 1935; he served as a deputy until March 8, 1943 (Bali 2004:179). Bali mentions that Atatürk indicated that all the Turkish citizens could be elected as independent deputies regardless of their creed in 1935; however, Samuel Abrevaya used the surname of ‘ Özçelik ’ due to ultranationalists at least until 1939 (2004:163). Nazism influenced some Turks in the 1930s; for example, in 1934, some anti-Semites diffused the false news that the Turkish government wanted to exile all the Jews in Thrace to Istanbul; some Jews were beaten and raped, and some money was taken from the other Jews; some Jews requested help from the Republican People’s Party that asked police to protect them; after the abolishment of the protection, several attacks against them occurred in various Thracian cities by ultranationalist Turks defending Hitler, and 65 Jewish homes were pillaged on July 3-4, 1934; the prime minister İsmet İnönü organized a special meeting in Ankara on July 5, 1934 and underlined that all the citizens of Turkey had equal rights under the law; besides, Pan-Turks defended that only a pure generation of Turks that does not have any non-Muslim roots should have been created also by Turkifying the minorities in Turkey; moreover, Cevat Rıfat Atilhan who published two anti-Semitic novels entitled Jewish Spies in the Sinai Front and The Diary of Suzi Liberman was respected by the Nazis in Germany (Levi 1998:100-130).

Also some tragic events occurred: a streamer called Struma departed from Constanza with 769 Romanian refugees going to Palestine; its captain deceived them by saying that they would have received their visas in Istanbul, while the British rule which was a part of a League of Nations mandate was governing Palestine (Reisman 2006:289 and Bali 2001:181-183). It anchored in Sarayburnu on December 15, 1941 and was quarantined; only the Segal family was saved by contacting Vehbi Koç, the local representative of his company, the Socony Vacuum Oil Company; a pregnant woman became ill, and she was sent to Or-Ahayim Hospital; the streamer forgotten in the Black Sea after the order of its return to Constanza, exploded for being “torpedoed” most probably by a Russian submarine; only David Stoliar was saved and allowed to go to Palestine (Bali 2004:263-264). A book published by the ministry of defense of the U.S.S.R. (the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in 1978 confirms that a Russian submarine caused the Struma disaster (Bali 2001:200). According to Shaw, Romanian refugees drowned in the Black Sea, as the Struma sank in February 1942 (2002:257). The ship sank on February 24, 1942 (Reisman 2006:289). Greg Buxton who lost his grandparents in the disaster and dived into the deep sea for finding out the ship wreck could not find it; however, on September 3, 2000, a religious ceremony was organized for those who lost their lives in the disaster (Bali 2004:265-267). Another ship called Mefkûre sank on August 5, 1944 in the Black Sea, after having been torpedoed by a Soviet submarine; it was carrying 300 Jewish immigrants from Constanza (Bali 2010:86)

3. 3. Contemporary Turkish Jews

The constitutions of the Republic of Turkey belonging to the years of 1924, 1961, and 1981 all cite that people should be regarded as Turkish citizens regardless of their mother tongues, religions, and races (Bali 2001:16). Güleryüz (1996-2011) proposes that approximately 26,000 Jews live in Turkey today: according to him, the majority of the Turkish Jews have settled in Istanbul, and they form communities with less members in Izmir and other cities of Turkey, including these cities in an alphabetical order: Adana, Ankara, Bursa, Çanakkale [Dardanelles], İskenderun, and Kırklareli. Today there are thirty-six synagogues serving in Adana, Ankara, Izmir, Çanakkale [Dardanelles], Hatay, Bursa, Kırklareli, and Istanbul (Ercan 2008).

In addition, Güleryüz (1996-2011) also suggests that the Sephardim constitute 96% of the Jews, living in Turkey, and Ashkenazim led to the formation of the second major group of Turkish Jews: moreover, he (1996-2011) mentions that very few Karaim live in Turkey as “an independent group” that is not based on the system of the Chief Rabbinate of Turkey. He says, “Turkish Jews are legally represented, as they have been for many centuries, by the Hahambasi [ Hahamba şı ], the Chief Rabbi” (1996-2011, emphasis added).

Thirty-five lay counselors of the Turkish Jewish Community are involved in the cultural and other types of irreligious work, whereas fourteen executive members of the community whose president is a lay counselor in the regular community relations and business (Güleryüz 1996-2011). In Turkey, synagogues are regarded “as religious foundations”; most of the Jewish children and youth attend Turkish schools and universities in addition to others who attend the Jewish elementary schools in Istanbul and Izmir and the Jewish high school in Istanbul where Hebrew might be taught as a foreign language; however, young Turkish Jews cannot speak the Judeo-Spanish language that is spoken by senior Jewish citizens of Turkey (Güleryüz 1996-2011). For preserving the Sephardic identity, the Ottoman-Turkish Sephardic Center was established in Istanbul in 2003; the center has been making various efforts for the preservation of the Turkish Sephardic heritage and the Judeo-Spanish language (Gerson-Şarhon 2007:26).

Furthermore, Ojalvo mentions that the European Day of Jewish Culture has been celebrated generally on the first Sunday of the month of September of each year in Europe since 2000; the first of these celebrations was organized in 2001 in Turkey (2007:67). The media have an important role in the preservation of cultural groups. Turkish Jews have their weekly newspaper, entitled Şalom (Shalom) where Turkish and Judeo-Spanish articles appear (Güleryüz 1996-2011). It has also a monthly Judeo-Spanish supplement entitled El Amaneser [Dawn] (Gerson-Şarhon 2007:26). Both journals have been archived digitally: for the Şalom Newspaper, one can check this web site:, and one can go to the following web site for accessing some previous publications of its monthly supplement El Amaneser:


[1] Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy are the five books that form the whole book of the Torah, revealed to Moses (Alalu et al. 2001:285-286). See the following reference:

Jewish Publication Society of America.

1963 The Torah [ Torah ]: The Five Books of Moses. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America.

[2] Blumer, Herbert
1937 Social Psychology, Chapter 4. In Man and Society: A Substantive Introduction to the Social Science. Emerson Peter Schmid, ed. Pp. 144-198. New York: Prentice-Hall.

[3] Kiefer defends that an anthropologist should respect the informants’ private life and protect them against any harmful situations that may occur as a result of the unethical uses of the information gathered from them (2006:114). Consequently, for ethical reasons, I secured the –written- permission of the chief physician of the hospital, Dr. Tunç Çelebi for conducting my fieldwork with the Pink Angels. Moreover, I wrote and signed a statement indicating that I would not distribute the photographs I had taken to the media that produce magazine news, and I always asked for the permission of the people, before taking their photographs. Besides, in this study, I do not mention the names of the Pink Angels, the hospital employees, or the patients.

[4] It is the Jewish compensation day that involves the period that begins before the sunset and lasts until the appearance of the stars in the evening sky on the next day; Jews fast on this day for purifying themselves from their sins (Alalu et al. 2001:46).

[5] A candleholder that has seven branches; it represents the order of God, “Let there be light!”; Moshe learned how to make it from God (see Exodus 25:31-40) (Alalu et al. 2001:223-224). However, the Hanukkah candleholder called Hanukkiyah has nine branches for each candle to be lit on a different day, whereas a candle is used just in lighting the others (Alalu et al. 2001:62-63).

[6] Hanukkah is the Jewish feast celebrated for the victory of the Jews over Greeks saving Beth-ha-Mikdash from pagans; it has been celebrated for eight days beginning from the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev (Alalu et al. 2001:60).

[7] In the battle at the Milvian Bridge, which occurred in 312 C.E., Maxentius who was a usurper died; as a result, Constantine the Great started to reign in the West, whereas Licinius in the East; and in 313 C.E., both “issued the Decree of Milan, by which they gave full religious liberty to the Christians” (Betten 1922:191).

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Pink Angels: Cultural reproduction through the therapies provided by a Jewish women's organization in Or-Ahayim Hospital in Istanbul
Middle east technical university  (Graduate school of social sciences)
Social Anthropology
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Derya Agis (Author), 2012, Pink Angels: Cultural reproduction through the therapies provided by a Jewish women's organization in Or-Ahayim Hospital in Istanbul, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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