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A letter from Volos (excerpts) by Asher J. Matathias - 8.98

For a month, we have been enjoying the warmth and hospitality of Anna's parents -- Maurice and Toula Franses -- in Volos, Greece, the beautiful city of our birth, combining vistas of the seashore and nearby Mt. Pelion. 
        We travel to Macedonia, the country's northern province, and marvel my mother's (and Alexander the Great's) birthplace, Salonica, the European Union's 1997 cultural capital. Its recognizing structure is Lefkos Pyrgos (a white tower, which is really grey), reminiscent of the city's medieval Venetian past. Salonica is noted for its brilliant existence during the Ottoman Turkish occupation (1453-1912), when the sultan gladly welcomed the expelled Sephardic Jews from Spain in 1492, and with their energy and wisdom fashioned "the Jerusalem of the Balkans." 
In our travels we seek co-religionists, the synagogue, Jewish museum, or Holocaust monument, even the Jewish cemetery. In Volos I assisted the resident rabbi / cantor (my father-in-law) in chanting Shabbat worship services with gusto, employing tunes I learned at home, in America. Anna was engaged as an interpreter, when a touring group from Afula, Ramat Zvi, Israel made a scheduled stop in Volos. Jewish community president Rafael Frezis showed us the artist's depiction of a Holocaust memorial, soon to be erected in the plaza of Volos City Hall. The cost was assumed by a native son, now a successful businessman in New York, Victor Politis. 
The Jewish population continues to dwindle, even as many in the public and private sectors of life are voicing regret that this once vibrant contingent of the body politic is no more. Its demise was heralded in the Holocaust, with an astounding 95% casualty rate! Today, only 5,000 Jews live in Greece, a bare 100 men, women, and children in Volos, ever-challenged by assimilation and intermarriage. Last year, the handful that make up the contemporary Rhodes Jewish community, issued an appeal to their brethren in America for a Torah scroll. The message was carried by Byzantine scholar Marcia Haddad- Ikonomopoulos, recently a Queens College honors graduate. In a telephone call from Hania, Crete, she related the happiness of the community, and her own joy, when the cousins Reggie Goldberg and Marion Crespi (with their offspring) hand-delivered this invaluable parchment containing the Five Books of Moses, a portion of which is recited every Saturday morning in the synagogue. Bravo! Bravo to all who participated in this holy mission, making possible hope for this congregation's continued existence. 
May your summer have been as healthy, restful, happy, and eventful (in that order) as ours has been; and may we all, in the Five Towns, and everywhere, in the coming religious New Year 5759 strive "to live for each other ... to live with ourselves." 

Sincerely, and with affection, 
Asher J. Matathias 

Asher J. Matathias is originally from Volos and currently lives in the United States.


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