Contributed by Dahlia Adler Fisch | Last Visit: July 2008
Kosher info: There is a surprisingly large population of Jews living in Istanbul today, but there is only one Kosher restaurant in the entire city of Istanbul. Fortunately, it’s a good one—tasty, reasonably priced, and accepts all major credit cards. Carne is located at 53 Halaskargazi Cadessi in Harbiye, which is a little bit of a trip from the popular tourist attractions in Sultanahmet but accessible either by cab or by taking the tram all the way to Kabatas, taking the funicular to Taksim, and walking up the hill. (As a bonus, you’ll also pass by the 7/11, which sells Ben & Jerry’s.) Not all the waiters speak English, so bring a phrasebook if you’ve got one. Reservations are recommended, especially later in the evening, as it starts to get much busier around eight.
Tourist info: There is an incredible amount to do in Istanbul, but several of its greatest landmarks are mosques, so avoid the Blue Mosque, Sulemaniye Mosque, and Hagia Sofia if it is your personal religious policy not to enter non-Jewish houses of worship (although they’re worth taking in from the outside, at least, and the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque are located across the street from each other).
Other worthwhile landmarks include Topkapi Palace (where they claim to have Moses’ Staff on display…judge for yourself), the Grand Bazaar (tram stop to Bayezit) which is like the Shuk on steroids and where you are expected to bargain for absolutely everything, and the Turkish Archaeological Museum, which displays a stone from the courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash. Also highly recommended is a ferry ride on the Bosphorus, which you can catch at the Eminonu tram stop and which lasts about an hour and a half, stopping briefly on the Asian side of Istanbul. Bring a camera–I can’t emphasize this enough. Istanbul is, thankfully, a fairly inexpensive city. Admission to most tourist attractions is 10 Lira (YTL) which is about $8.50. Admission to the Blue Mosque is free, but it is closed during Muslim prayer times.
The only real you’ll-kick-yourself-for-spending-so-much-money-on-this tourist trap, unless you’re an avid photographer (but even then) is Galata Tower. It costs 10 Lira to go to the top of the tower for panoramic views of the city or to sit in their overpriced (and non-Kosher, obviously) cafe. However, the views are beautiful, and it’s conveniently located near Neve Shalom Synagogue.
Jewish Info: There are three Shuls to see in Istanbul, but be aware in advance that they all require appointments, they all require paperwork to be sent in advance, and they’re not all in the same neighborhood. Ask your hotel if they have the proper forms and if they can fax over a copy of your passport.
Ahrida Synagogue is the oldest of the three, located in the old Greek-Jewish neighborhood of Fener-Balat. If you’re staying in the Sultanahmet, be warned that Balat is FAR, and the only good way to get there is by taxi. Should you get lost, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone around who speaks English.
Neve Shalom is a beautiful Shul and much more conveniently located in Beyoglu, down the street from Galata Tower. However, since it has been bombed twice in the recent past, it also has the tightest security. They require extra paperwork, and without everything, you will not be admitted. Neve Shalom also contains the only mikvah in Istanbul, and is the only Shul currently in use for Shabbat services.
There is also an Ashkenaz Synagogue, but here I must admit that we could not find the address and the concierge at our hotel who made our appointment was nowhere to be found, so we missed that appointment.