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The Cortejos

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Most of the people who used the old synagogues lived in poor conditions in court-yard homes (Cortejos) nearby (sometimes containing 20-30 families living in a shared space), in the old Jewish quarter (La Judria). The families shared washing and bathroom services, and helped cook and care for the children, thus maintaining a vibrant Jewish atmosphere.

Nadia Kaya remembers escorting her father’s worker to a cortejo near the Agora and the Bazaar. She recalls a high gate, through which they entered; the two parts of the building were parallel, with the opposite gate opening to the Aegean Sea. On the second floor were balconies, and each family had one room. In the yard were trees and plants. The Cortejo dwellers were in a low socio-economic level.
Our interviewees mentioned the Cortejos as a place of poverty and crowding.
An interview was carried out with Nessim (Bar) Maymon in 1982. He is a retired Rabbi who was born in Izmir in 1922. He lived in a cortejo named Arazaki in Ikicheshmelik until 1949, when he got engaged.

Nessim tells of 18 families sharing two toilets and one washing space where the tenants had to wash their clothes in groups on certain days. In the summer everyone slept in the courtyard, separated by clothes. He remembers great trust and good relationships between all the neighbors.

His cortejo had an entrance from the main street, and another one from a side street. The courtyard was surrounded on three sides by rooms. The fountain in the center gave warm water in winter and cold water in summer, and was used by many neighbors in the vicinity. A big room was used as a kitchen. Most of the cooking, cleaning and washing were done on Friday, before the Sabbath. The importance of sharing in the Jewish lifestyle could be seen in every aspect of life: from economics to religion.

Neighbors helped the poor by donating food or clothes, and looking after everyone's children. Disputes sometimes arose, but trouble-makers were kindly warned. In the evenings the people could meet at a hall overlooking the sea and surrounded by windows. There was no need for a radio since music was heard from the surrounding coffee houses during the day, and at night the men would drink, play drums ('Tof') and dance. When a man named 'Cakir' would play his harmonica, it was a sign for the children to go to bed. At night, the main gate was locked with an iron bar.

In 1933, a month's rent was 10 Liras, which were paid to the owners who lived in Karshiyaka. The residents were poor, many were employed in selling clothes or tin products. Each cortejo had a manager who did not pay the rent, and was responsible for keeping the cortejo clean, settling disputes between families, and dealing with any maintenance problems.

Bar Maimon claims that all the tenants of the cortejos were Jews. The rich of the community provided, this way, cheap living spaces to those in need.

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