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Conserving Greek Jewish heritage - 6.98

After years of neglect and loss of important buildings, Greek Jewry is entering an era of awareness, care and efforts to preserve the little that has been left of its history of over 2,000 years. This year, thanks to the participation and substantial support of international institutions, three synagogues are in the process of conservation in Greece: the synagogue in Veroia, northern Greece, Etz Hayim synagogue in Hania, and Kahal Kadosh Shalom synagogue in Rhodes. 

Veroia, located near Salonika, is a small city with ancient history, important not only to Greek Christians, but to Greek Jews as well: Veroia was one of the cities that St. Paul the Apostle visited in 49-52 A.D. during his second journey to Greece to preach Christianity. The synagogue of Veroia, a jewel of Balkan vernacular architecture, remains in a state of neglect, within the fairly well  preserved Jewish quarter of the city. This quarter, one of the last remaining in Greece, is unique for its Hebrew inscriptions and verses painted on the exterior walls of the houses. The conservation effort in Veroia, coordinated by the author on behalf of the Municipality of Veroia, has relied for support on two grants from the Getty Grant Program in Santa Monica, CA, and matching funds from the local municipality. The goal of this effort is not only to preserve the last (outside Salonika) and oldest remaining synagogue in northern Greece, an area once scattered with thriving Jewish communities; it is also to create a permanent photographic museum in the basement of the building, presenting the history of the Jewish community, the synagogue, and the conservation program. While the implementation grant requested from the Getty Grant Program is under review, the Hellenic Society "Paideia" of Connecticut, has already pledged to provide for the "seed" funds towards the implementation of the conservation work, by sponsoring the creation of this permanent exhibition. The final phase of the work on the building is scheduled to begin in fall, 1998. Individuals are encouraged to In addition, this synagogue will be nominated for the World Monuments Watch list of endangered sites for 1999 (The conservation project of the synagogue of Veroia will be presented in detail in the next issue of Kol haKEHILA). 

The synagogue in Hania, Crete, is in the medieval Venetian church of St. Catherine, and is believed to have been transformed into a synagogue in the late seventeenth century. The building has been listed by WMF's World Monuments Watch on its 1996 worldwide list of 100 Most Endangered Sites and in including in WMF's Jewish Heritage Program's list of 10 preservation Priorities.  The KIS (owner of the site) and WMF are now sponsoring the restoration of the building with support from individual donors and international foundations. Nikolas Stavroulakis is Project Director for WMF, overseeing a team of architects and conservators.  Repair, conservation and restoration of the building will be complete by fall 1998 (already the walls have been structurally repaired and re-plastered, a new roof has been put on, the mikveh has been opened, and the original pavement of the courtyard has been revealed.)  A second phase will involve the annex buildings and spaces, creation of a Holocaust memorial, design and installation of new synagogue furnishings, and preparation of exhibition materials. Nikolas Stavroulakis has established a Foundation for the long-term care and operation of the site. 

The synagogue Kahal Kadosh Shalom in Rhodes, dating from 1575, is the oldest Greek synagogue in use today. This unique building, located in the Jewish quarter of Rhodes, is built and decorated in the traditional 16th century construction techniques of the island. The synagogue is occasionally opened for services by Lucia Soulam-Modiano, keeper of the synagogue. Thanks to the cooperation between Aaron Hasson, Founder and President of the Rhodes Jewish Historical Foundation in Los Angeles, and the Jewish community of Rhodes, the synagogue is currently in the process of conservation by a team of local Rhodian architects. 


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