Mendy Chitrik
Mendy Chitrik
Chair of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States

“What is Mirkado?!”… a Turkish-Jewish custom

“Mirkado?! What is Mirkado?” asked my nephew Eliezer when we visited the Izmir Gürçeşme Jewish cemetery.

Let’s discuss a peculiar Turkish-Jewish custom.

I know it might sound odd, but cemeteries are a good source of history and understanding social dynamics. Reading an inscription on a headstone tells us much about the person and his place in his community and family. “Avraham who was called Behor” says one of the grave stones in Bergama.

The above gravestones means that Avraham was known as ‘Behor’ or First Born. He was the oldest in his family.

Here was buried “Çelebi Perahia Abuav” who died in 1940 – which tells us that Perahia was known as a “Gentleman” amongst his Muslim friends and neighbors.

And this particular headstone from Izmir reads “Mirkado Yitzhak Polikar”; Which is what prompted Eliezer to ask: “Mirkado?! What is Mirkado?”

So this is the story:

“It is for changing the Mazal (luck)” explains Moshe Habif, who is part of the Hevra Kadisha, the Holy Society that takes care of burials. “If a child was born after miscarriages or illness the child is “bought” by a relative, who takes care of the needs until tje child is 7-8″… After which everyone would call him Mirkado…

Mirkado in Judeo-Espanyol (Ladino) means “bought” for boys and Mirkada is for girls. Moşe tells us that this is an Izmir custom.

However, in fact, it is not only an Izmir Jewish custom, but it is a Turkish custom – the not uncommon Turkish name “Satılmış” means “Sold” – following the same tradition: If there is some misfortune an infant is ceremonially “sold” so that his “chain of luck” and his future be changed…

Small difference: For Jews of Izmir, a child is “bought” and for Muslims, a child is “sold”.

“Did it actually work?” I asked Moşe. “It is a matter of belief, one has to believe in it”, Moşe replies…

A name carries a message and is the source of energy. In the Jewish tradition, a person channel for divine sustenance comes through one’s name. Therefore, when one is sick, a “name change” is called for. The New name is a sign for a new source of energy.

A friend in İstanbul is called Nisim Eliyahu. At his birth he was actually named Eliyahu, after his grandfather. But little Eliyahu was born 78 years ago, physically weak – his parents added: Nisim, meaning Miracles.

“I don’t think my children know the significance of this” says Moşe… “You are right, we must record it.”

There is a lot more to learn from the living stones in cemeteries. Stones that tell us much about death – but actually tell us about life.

Like these head stones scattered in Milas – which tell us about the love of a grieving husband to his young wife Rahel.

I am not sure who Rahel was but she died while giving birth in 1872. And her husband, apparently, loved her very much, and engraved her name on all corners of her grave – writing about her beauty, her youth, and about his sadness.

You see that stones speak about love too.

  • This post originally appeared as a thread on my Twitter @MChitrik please visit to see other threads and feel free to explore the #TurkeyJewishRoadtrip – on the next blog entry, I will write about other fascinating trips to Jewish sites in Turkey. Stay tuned.
About the Author
Mendy Chitrik is the Ashkenazi Rabbi of Turkey and Chair of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States. Follow me on twitter at @mchitrik
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