Monday, May 23, 2011

The Jews of Ioannina - Greece

The Jews of Ioannina - Greece

The Greek-speaking Jews of Greece, the Romaniotes, have suffered both neglect and indifference from modern scholars. Neither Ashkenazi nor Sepharadi, they have maintained traditions and customs stretching far back into antiquity. They are, in fact, a tangible contact with the world of Hellenistic Jewry, which was the matrix in which Christianity was born and developed and out of which great rabbis and scholars influenced Jewish life throughout the Balkans and even Europe in the Middle Ages. This fine work by Rae Dalven, herself a Romaniote, is a much needed initial work on not only the Romaniotes but on the life of the once quite significant Romaniote community in Ioannina. It is a little known and badly recorded world and one that has all but vanished into the past. One is hopeful that, through the work of Dr. Dalven, young scholars may be inspired to further study and document other Romaniote communities in Greece.

Jewish Heritage in Greece

Chalkis / Larissa
Travelling north, within a short driving distance from Athens, is the city of Chalkis on the island of Euboea.
The Jews in this city belong to the Romaniote community that is believed to have been a part of the oldest Jewish Community in Europe, established about 2,500 years ago. The historic synagogue at 35, Kotsou Str., was built after the 1846 fire that destroyed the old structure and its extensive library. A few of the priceless manuscripts are in the Chalkis Museum and in private hands.
Driving further north in Central Greece, there are other sites of importance to the Jewish historian - such as Volos, Trikala and Larissa.
Of special importance is Larissa, the capital city of Thessaly. Here thrived an ancient Jewish community dating back to the 2nd century B.C.E.
Seven synagogues and a yeshivot existed in Larissa soon after the end of the Turkish occupation in 1881. The well-known piyyutim (poems) were written here and took their place among the rare gems of the Jewish muse.
An interesting characteristic of this Jewish community is that all the homes were built connected to each other and near the river Penios. Thus, Jews were always ready to escape Turkish raids, cross the river and take the road to the mountains. Even the richest in the community lived in low, modest homes for fear of attracting attention.
Of the 2,800 Jews who lived in Larissa in 1882, only a handful and one synagogue survive today. The city has designated the Square of Jewish Martyrs and a monument to commemorate those who perished in the Holocaust.
Veria is another city in the north of Greece where a Jewish community flourished until war and migration left only
stone - and - brick witnesses to a once thriving neighborhood.
A fortress - like gate off Veria's central square leads to a delightful neighborhood of descending streets, quaint buildings and backyards covered by vines and wild fig trees.
Between this gate and the stream downhill are the haunting reminders of Jewish life that reach back to the 1st century; Old buildings with delicate drawings and signs in Hebrew declaring, 'May I lose My Right Hand if I Forget You, Oh Jerusalem".
There were close ties between the Jewish communities of Veria and Thessaloniki and when the Apostle Paul (49 B.C.E.) was expelled from Thessaloniki, he came to Veria's synagogue to deliver his message. The upheavals in Western Europe also resulted in the spread of the Sephardic culture in Veria's Jewish community.
Through the centuries, Veria developed its own religious and secular institutions of learning, and the remains of a synagogue and cemetery are sites for today's visitors. In the 1920s and '30s, communal life and festivities were faithfully observed and the sukkoth could be seen in the terraces and the balconies of the neighborhood.
The Jewish Community of Ioannina, the capital city of the region of Epirus, was founded around the 8th century A.D.
The Ioannina Community is the largest and most representative Romaniote Greek Jewish Community, whose members are descendants of the Greek Jews living in the Byzantine Empire. The Jews of Ioannina reigned over the now extinct Jewish communities in Arta, Preveza, Parga and Agrinion.
The Jewish quarter is located within the walls of the old city. It includes the area to the right of Yossef Eliya street. It was also named "Megali Rouga", which means "Big Road", and only remainings can be traced today.
The old synagogue near the fortress of the town, in 16 loustinianou str., is preserved by loanniote Jews from around the world.
In the beginning of the 29th century, the Jewish population of 4.000 Jews declined to 2.000, after the Balkan War of 1913, while in 1940, before German occupation, 1.950 Jews lived in Ioannina.
In 24-25 March 1944, the Jews of Ioannina were arrested by the Nazis and their properties were confiscated and given to public institutions, orphanages etc.
The city has also produced many Jewish intellectuals, among which the renowed poet Yossef Eliya (1901-1931). In the "Poets' Park" the visitor can see a marble bust of Yossef Eliya.

Corfu (Kerkyra)
A Jewish Community prospered in this Ionian island. During the 13th and 14th centuries a number of Jews from the Greek mainland settled in Corfu. By the 16th century they had two synagogues; the Romaniote and the Italian.
In the 19th century the Jews of Corfu excelled in printing and book-binding.
Out of the 2,000 Jews of Corfu in 1941, when the Germans occupied Greece, 1,800 were deported to Auschwitz. Only 170 Jews survived Holocaust.
In the Jewish quarter one can see the Star of David decorating the balcony balustrades and lintels of old houses. A characteristic example is a house in lak. Polyla and Rizospaston Voulefton streets.
The old Italian synagogue "Pulieza" was burnt by a fire and then destroyed during the World War II by a bombing in 1943. Today, only a stoa (the "echal") has survived the catastrophy.
The Romaniote synagogue is the one functioning today, in Velissariou str. The residents of the island call it "Greca".
In the back of the synagogue, in a tide street of Velissariou, the "Talmoud" school has survived, too.
Zante (Zakynthos)
An Ionian island, Zakynthos bears imprints of Jewish tradition.
In 1522, 30 Jewish families lived in the island having one synagogue.
By 1712, the Community had two synagogues; the "Zakynthian" and the "Cretan". The second was destructed. The first was severely damaged by the 1953 earthquake. The visitor can see its remainings in 44, Tertseti street.During German occupation, out of the 270 .members of the Community, 70-80 remained in town while the majority fled to the mountains.
The Germans asked from the Mayor of the island Loukas Carrier and the Metropolite Orthodoxe Chryssostomos a list of the Jews of Zakynthos. Due to their firm refusal to provide this list, all Jews were saved, hiding in the remote villages of the island.
Expressing their gratitude, the Jews of Greece erected a monument in the island to honour the memory of those two brave men.
On this Aegean island, the Jewish Community of which is mentioned by Josephus (38-100 B.C.) and in inscriptions, a structure discovered at the begining of this century has been identified as a synagogue built in the first century B.C. and continuing through the first and second centuries A. D.
This structure, is part of a residential quarter, in the northeastern corner of the island, very close to the seashore.
The entrances are on the east, and on the northern part of the western wall there are well-formed marble benches, at
the center of which there is a splendid marble "throne", recalling the "Seat of Moses" as found at Chorazin and Hammath-Tiberias.
The island of Naxos was the Cyclades' capital. In 1566, the residents of Naxos protested against the tyrannic rule of
the Krispi Dynasty to Sultan Selim II (1566-1574), ruler of the Ottoman empire Selim gave the Cyclades to Don Joseph Nassi who then became Duke of the Aegean Pelagus. Nassi was known as "The Great Jew", an apt description for the only Jewish duke in Europe who ruled a kingdom in Greece on Cyclades islands for 13 years until his death in 1579.
The site known today as the Jewish neighborhood in Naxos is at the northern side of the Castle, and is still marked by the characteristic wall fountain Its main street boasts the name of Joseph Nassi.
A synagogue existing in the Jewish quarter was destructed in February 2, 1758.
In the lintels of the Orthodox Churches "Metamorfosseos Platzas" and "St. John Baptist" the visitor can see today
Jewish symbols.

Rhodes, one of Mediterranean Sea's most fascinating and picturesque islands bears distinct imprints of Jewish
traditions. Jewish landmarks survive on the narrow, arched, cobblestoned medieval streets of "Juderia" neighborhood.
The Jews of Rhodes although dating back to the list century C.E. as attested to by the historian Josephus, are listed for the first time as fierce defenders of the walled city against the Turks in 1480. An infusion of new families from Thessaloniki soon after helped make Rhodes a Sephardic center.
During the next four centuries synagogues and yeshivot mushroomed alongside extensive trading and the
community gained a distinct flavor. Rich merchants of textiles and silk mingled with gun manufacturers, craftsmen, book-binders and weavers. They lived in the eye of international commerce that mixed banking, slave trading and piracy.
A visiting Italian rabbi in 1467 wrote in a letter still kept in Florence; "I have never seen a Jewish community where everybody from the oldest to the youngest is so smart... they have long hair and look like princes... The leaders of the knights regularly visit Jewish homes to admire the handiwork of the beautiful embroiderers".
But Jewish fortunes changed just as regularly and good times often gave way to persecutions and exile. Still, the Jews of Rhodes lived for almost nine centuries in the same neighborhood in the old walled city. Today, only about 40 Greek Jews reside where about 5,000 people lived in 1900.
"Shalom" synagogue, Dosiadou and Simiou streets, survived World War 11 and so has the ancient Jewish so has the ancient Jewish cemetery. "Shalom", originally built in the 12th century, was destroyed during the war between Turks and Knights and rebuilt in the 15th century.
A small but prosperous Jewish community existed in the island of Kos, in east Aegean Set.
In July 1944, its 120 members found their death in Auschwitz.
Today, the visitor can see the old synagogue which was transformed by the Municipality of the island to Cultural Center. A Jewish cemetery exists as well as old Jewish owned villas.
Heraklion and Chania were the main port-cities where Jews lived during the Roman empire.
The Jews played an important part in the transit trade. The island was also known for its rabbis and scholars.
In 1481 a Jewish community existed in Heraklion having four synagogues. This same community welcomed a number of Jewish refugees who immigrated from Spain to Greece in 1492.
Before World War II the number of the Jews in the island had decreased to 400. In June 1944, the Jews of Chania with many other Greeks were transported to Heraklion, put on the ship "Penios" which was sunk by the Germans as soon as she left the port. "Only seven Cretan Jews survived Holocaust.
The Jewish quarter in Chania used to be in the area of the ancient port of the city. The visitor can see there the remains of a synagogue.
In the Archaeological Museums of Heraklion and Rethymno one can see today Jewish gravestones as well as a marble stone with an inscription in Russian and the Star of David.

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