Yakir Behar: A Jewish Turk in Venice
Last year, Ca Foscari University in Venice marked its 150th anniversary with “Theses Onstage,” a series of plays about its alumni. “1913: A Turk in Venice” introduced audiences to Yakir Behar, a young Jewish man from Constantinople (Istanbul today) pursuing degrees in economics and law during the pivotal year before the outbreak of World War I. Motivated by his Jewish faith, he intended to use his education to improve life in his native land, especially for his co-religionists. Returning to Turkey, he would realize his goals through his involvement in B’nai B’rith.
Behar became a university professor who wrote books and articles on Turkey’s economic and legal systems, as well as on B’nai B’rith’s mission and philosophy. From 1919 on, he served as Secretary of District 11, encompassing lodges in Turkey, pre-state Israel, Egypt, Yugoslavia, Syria, Bulgaria, Greece and Rhodes. Second in command, he was responsible for administrating philanthropic projects, writing and editing the District’s magazine and corresponding in numerous languages. Planning to recruit members in Italy, Behar was in Venice in 1920 to present a speech about B’nai B’rith’s history. It was later published as a pamphlet that included an endorsement by the country’s Jewish former prime minister, Luigi Luzzatti, a champion of the working class who had influenced Behar when he taught and mentored him at Ca Foscari.
Living in pre-State Israel during the 1930s, Behar would go on to teach in Tel Aviv, where he served as president of one of the Tel Aviv lodges.