The Newsletter of the Jewish monuments of Greece       ONLINE ARCHIVE home page culture shop
Jewish Heritage tours to Greece

Table of Contents  

Restored synagogue in Crete a tribute to centuries-long Jewish presence on island (bulletin board)   
Greek Jewish leader complains about letter opposing synagogue reopening (bulletin board)  
Update on the Etz Hayim synagogue in Hania, Crete - 7.5.00 by Nicholas Stavroulakis  
Update on the Etz Hayim synagogue in Hania, Crete - 17.2.00 by Nicholas Stavroulakis

send your mail to: KOL haKEHILA

Update on the Etz Hayim synagogue in Hania, Crete - 7.5.00
by Nicholas Stavroulakis 
- Pessah 
- New benches and completion of the interior 
- New Sepher Torah 
- The Great-Grandson of the last Chief Rabbi of Crete 
- Anti-Semitism or Stupidity – or Both?  
- Services in the synagogue 
- The Friends of Etz-Hayyim 

Preparations for Pesah were laid well in advance of the Fesitival – as is customary – almost immediately following Purim. For the latter festival there was a good attendance of ‘locals’ – both Jews and Christians as well as a good number tourists who had braved a cool spring to travel to Crete. As we do not have a proper megillah the text of the story of Esther was read from the Tanah and commented on and after that the children played games and the adults assembled in the north courtyard for beverages, some sweets and a discussion was held as to how we would celebrate Pesah. It was decided at that time that we would have a proper Seder. 

Due to the problem of erratic weather our initial plan to have the Seder in the north courtyard was changed and it was decided that we have the proper reading of the Haggadah in the Synagogue and then assemble to the Konaki Restaurant for the meal and return for the Thanksgiving afterwards. As the Konaki is built on the site of the old Beth Shalom Synagogue it is in a sense part of the complex of buildings that once formed the heart of the Jewish Community of Hania. Kosher meat was ordered well in advance from Larissa where Shehita takes place every week and included two entire lambs as well as five chickens. New cooking utensils were bought and pre-preparation of the meat was taken care of in the small place that we have rented across from the Kal.  

Gifts for the Seder began to arrive two weeks prior to the Festival and included several cases of Carmel Kosher 
wine and matsoth that were sent down from Athens. A special gift was sent from Israel by Mrs.Rachel Ben-Dakon in the form of Hallels or Shmeroth Matsoth. For the Seder some 50 people assembled in the synagogue. 
Fortunately two days prior to Pesah the Hon. Yair Tzaban a former member of the Israeli Knesset arrived and was delighted to be asked to lead the Seder. The main text of the Haggadah was read from just under the Bema where a large copper tray was set with the symbolic foods including haroshet from an old Haniote recipe. Some portions of the Haggadah were read in Hebrew, others in English and Greek and as we had a good number of Christian participants appropriate sections were read by them as well. As we followed the traditional Sephardi minhag the tray was carried about over the heads of all of the participants prior to the actual reading of the account of the Flight from Egypt. 

NEW BENCHES and Completion of the Interior 

The furniture for the interior of Etz Hayyim has now been completely installed – including a wooden rail that forms the tribune before the Eihal. All of the benches (19!) were made in Jakarta and were paid for by members of the Friends of Etz Hayyim.  

Etz Hayyim was one of two synagogues in Hania, the other being Beth Shalom that was bombed into ruins in 1941. The former was a Romaniote (i.e. Greek) synagogue and the latter was used by the Sephardi Jews of Hania. The lay-out of the interiors was quite different. Beth Shalom was a relatively shallow building and the Eihal and Bema were both located toward the eastern wall. Etz Hayyim followed a plan that dictated the placing of the Eihal on the eastern wall and the Bema opposite it against the western wall. This polar-axial arrangement is typical of some synagogues in Venice, North Africa and the western islands of Greece not to mention Ioannina. Toward the very end of the reconstruction of Etz Hayyim the question of what design would be given to the interior furniture arose. 
A more convenient concurrence of events could have dictated that we use the furniture of the Synagogue of Patras. In 1980 the Patras Jewish Community was officially disolved and at that time, as Director of the Jewish Museum of Greece, I was able to save not only the Eihal and Bema but also almost all of the benches as well as the screen for the mehitzah and several window panels. The entire interior of the Patras synagogue was installed in the ‘old’ Museum on Amalias street and sadly when the Museum was moved to its new site a few years ago the integrity of the furniture was destroyed and only part of it is now on display. Neo-classic in design it obviously had been done by one workshop and was very handsome in its entirety…it would have fit perfectly into Etz Hayyim. 

Lacking any photographs and evidence as to the character of the furnishings we had only several holes in the walls into which support sockets had been set. This determined at least the proportions and on the basis of these we designed new furniture that appears to ‘sit’ well in the synagogue. 


When the synagogue was re-dedicated in October 1999 a Sepher Torah was ceremoniously installed by Rabbi 
Jacob Arar of Athens. This Sepher had been a gift to the Director many years ago and was orginally from the 
David ibn Zimra Synagogue of Cairo. It is quite exquisite and written on gazelle skin and housed in a tik or wooden case according to the Oriental custom. The use of a tik is actually not usual amongst true Sephardis and is more common amongst Jews whose communities have roots going back into Antiquity when all scrolls were stored upright in special containers that in Greek were called thikis from which word tik in Hebrew is derived. Our Cairo Sepher was appropriate for Etz Hayyim which was a Romaniote synagogue.  

Not long after the dedication Rabbi Nicholas de Lange visited us and also began the work of translating the 
inscriptions in the south courtyard. At that time he suggested that we perhaps write to the Westminster Synagogue in London about the possibility of our being eligible to obtain a second Sepher Torah. The synagogue is the repository and also the centre for restoration of some one thousand, five hundred and seventy four Siphrei Torah that were discovered in an abandoned and ravaged synagogue near Prague in 1945. All had been stolen from synagogues in Eastern Europe. The sheer number as well as problems of conservation and ‘use’ determined that the Scrolls sat there until in 1964 a British philanthropist negotiated not only with the authorities in Prague but also with the London Westminster Synagogue for their eventual transference to London. In the February of that year all of them were flown to London and under the direction of Haham Rabbi Gaon the scrolls were each given a shelf of its own, examined minutely, and the work of making many of them once again of use in synagogues carried out under a group of Scribes.  

Not long after sending a letter to the Scrolls Trust we received a positive reply from the present Director Mrs Ruth Sheffer and several weeks ago our ‘new’ Torah arrived and has been ceremoniously installed in the Eihal. We feel deeply honoured to be able to give a home for this precious Sepher and especially are grateful to the London Scrolls Trust for this great honour to Etz Hayyim. 

The Great-Grandson of the last Chief Rabbi of Crete  

In mid-April R. Yakov Taranto visited with us for several days. R. Taranto is the great-grandson of Rabbi 
Abraham Evlagon whose leadership of the Jews of Crete covered a period from 1861 until his death in 1932. He was spared the horrors of the arrest and destruction of our community in 1944. The family of R. Evlagon was quite widely dispersed even prior to 1941 and R. Yacov was born in Eretz and is now resident in B’Nei Brak with his wife and fourteen children. He brought with him a great number of gifts for the synagogue: a kiddush cup and paten, a gold-plated mezzuzah, a Humash, Book of Tehillim and a Tanah as well as several large Shiftis and a framed Beraha for Rosh Hodesh. Of special note is a large framed panel of photographs of Rabbi Evlagon taken at various periods of his life that we have put up over the case that contains the charred Sepher Torah that was salvaged from one of the synagogues of Rhodes and which we dedicated to R. Evlagon.  

Anti-Semitism or Stupidity – or Both? 

Adjacent to and forming the northern perimeter of the men’s courtyard is a large building that was originally the Talmud Torah of Hania. After the last World War it was left abandoned and eventually sold as it had been badly damaged by the bombing of Hania in 1941. Several years ago it was rented and put to use as The Synagogue Café, though over its main entrance is simply a large sign that reads ‘Synagogue’. This in itself has created a misconception regarding the building. At the time of the beginning of the reconstruction of Etz Hayyim we brought the question of how appropriate such a title was – we were ignored and recently a new sign has appeard that includes not only the title Synagogue Café but also has appended to it the picture of a quite senile looking old man, bent over himself and wearing a form of kippah on his head. We have queried several of our Christian friends as to the implications and all are in agreement that it is not only in bad taste but that it is an insult. The analogy that one of them made was most striking: What would happen if a Jew opened an establishment next to St. Nicholas church and not only named it St. Nicholas’ Café but also hung from the sign an icon of St. Nicholas. We have approached the authorities here who find our plight to be amusing if anything and no action has been taken. 

As there are only a token number of Jews in Hania – and Crete for that matter – we at Etz Hayyim would appreciate your support by joining the numbers of persons who feel that the name as well as the sign must be changed. Letters can be sent to the Greek Embassy in Washington addressed to the Ambassador the Hon. Alexander Philon. 



Though we very rarely manage to have a minyan the synagogue is open for private prayer at appropriate times. Shahrith Prayers are recited at 8:30 AM and Minhah at 6:00. Arvith at the moment is recited at approximately 8:00 – 9:30 due to Summer Standard Time.  


The hours for Shabbath are posted weekly as are the times for Havdalah on Satruday PM. 

The synagogue is open to the public for prayer, meditaion or a visit from 8:30 AM until 1:00 noon and from 5:00 – 8:00 in the evenings. 


The Association of Friends has now been formally incorporated under Greek Law. To date the Friends have born the main burden of running expenses which include the electricity, water and rent of a small space nearby for storage. The acquisition of books for the library has also been on their budget. None of the persons working in the synagogue are salaried and the synagogue itself is self supporting for all other matters save those mentioned above. We still have an outstanding debt of $30.000 and our Tzedakah ‘begging bowl’ is not adequate to the task of raising this sum. 

Etz Hayyim is the only monument of Jewish significance on the Island of Crete after a presence of some 2300 years. It is also the only memorial to its last Jewish Community and we call on you to help us in settling our last relatively small debt. 

Thank you, 
Nicholas Hannan-Stavroulakis, Director – Etz Hayyim Synagogue 

For details and information please contact the Director at: 
P O Box 251 73110 HANIA, Tel. (0821) 86286 / e-mail: 

Update on the Etz Hayim synagogue in Hania, Crete - 17.2.00
by Nicholas Stavroulakis

Coming events at Etz Hayim  
Religious Life at Etz Hayim  
The Library at Etz Hayim  
The new Sefer Torah of Etz Hayim  
Talmud Torah of Hania 
Dear Friends – I hope that the substance of this report to you all will enliven its drab appearance. At the moment priorities are such that embellishments in the form of an exciting looking report are low and already the delay in sending this out to you is a cause of concern. I hope that in the course of the year that a proper Quarterly report will have a more appropriate appearance. 

I – The official ‘opening’ of Etz Hayim took place on the 10th October 1999. Until the very last minute work was still being carried out on the Eihal and Bema for the reception of the Sepher Torah into the Synagogue accompanying Shabbath itself. A great number of guests had already arrived during that afternoon - many having come from the US, Israel, England, Switzerland, Turkey and the Mainland of Greece. All of the Jewish Communities of Greece were represented either by their presidents or delegates and the Community of Volos presented the first gift to the new life of the synagogue. The president of the Community of Thessaloniki and his wife Mr and Mrs Andreas and Nelli Sephiha were accompanied by Rabbi Dayan and several other members of the Community. Both the Israeli and German Embassies were represented as was  
the City Council of Hania through several members as well as the Mayor Mr George Tsanakakis. Father Ioannis Vitalis OFM. Cap., represented the Roman Catholic community of Hania and the only noticeable absences were those of the Governor of the Nome of Hania, Mr. G. Katsevanakis and the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Hania, Ireanaeos. Their negative response to their invitations were through notices in the local Hania newspapers decrying the very existence of Etz Hayim Synagogue and deploring its return to life and the possible re-creation of a of Jewish presence in Hania. Their absence set for some of us an edge to the ‘event’ that ill suited the warmth, exuberance, interest and dedication of so many friends, communities, foundations and dedicated individuals who were all essentially responsible for the re-dedication. Needless to say the explicit elucidation of their reasons for not attending the opening acted as not only a precedent but also stimulant to a series of quite vituperative letters and articles in the local papers for some weeks to come. It must also be added that the Archbishop eventually  
succumbed to several approaches made a number of persons who had been invited as notables – not least being the Former Prime Minister of Greece Constantine Mitsotakis, the German Ambassador and the President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities of Greece Moise Constantini.  

The ceremonies attending the prayers on Shabbath were very moving in many ways and appear to have affected participants in different ways. For those of us who are Haniotes and who have lived more than half of our lives in the presence of the derelict and silent witness to the  
destruction of the last Jewish Community of Hania, what was taking place was numbing. During Shahrith prayers on Shabbath when the Sepher Torah was taken from the Eihal to proceed to the Bema there was a moment when almost the entire congregation of some 300 broke into tears.  
After Shahrith a traditional second Shabbath spread had been prepared in the courtyard and huevos en haminados, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, various yogurt preparations and good quantities of ouzo were consumed. During the afternoon there were several group tours for first  
visitors to Hania and the synagogues doors were open to welcome local Haniotes who already were beginning to show their personal support for the synagogue.  

In the late afternoon Minha and Arvith prayers were led by Rabbis Arar and Mizan of Athens along with Rabbi Dayan of Salonika and after Havdallah almost the entire attending congregation (& others I might add) made their way next door to the Konaki Restaurant where the Mayor  
of Hania hosted a dinner in honour of the event. Speeches were at a minumum and the entertainment was provided by a young group of traditional Cretan musicians and dancers. Much wine, ouzo and merriment marked the evening.  

The formal Hashkabah in memory of the last Community of Hania was performed on late Sunday AM after Shahrith. It was quite short, very focused and consisted mainly of the prayers led by Rabbis Arar and Dayan followed by short speeches given from the Bema by the Hon.  
Mayor of Hania George Tsanakakis, the Hon. J. Walker the former US Ambassador to Czechoslovakia who acted as the official representative of the World Monument Fund, The Hon. Constantine Mitsotakis, Mr Moise Constantini and a summation was made by the Director of the Project  
N. Stavroulakis.  

Throughout the remainder of the day there were many visitors, many tears, many memories that were awakened in the minds of locals who came not prepared to discover the invisible traces of childhood Jewish friends that had lingered hidden in their minds for so many years. By late  
evening the Quarter was almost silent again save for the voices of some of us who stayed on for Arvith prayers -  

II The above resume of the highpoints of the opening represents but a waft of the atmosphere that attended it. In the days that followed it there was a constant flow of local Christian visitors who were vociferous in their support and interest in the Synagogue and proved what we had felt in the beginning – that the synagogue has its own role to play in inter-communal and religious dialogue. The ability to live with alternative and even contradictory to one’s own, religious convictions and life styles, opens us to what genuinely unites all of us – our finite understanding of the world and our vulnerability to what is so deeply incomprehensible about it. Our technological successful age continues to feed us with the illusion that we have arrived at more than simply masking through apparent control our own fears of what us unknown about us. Certainly what unites us as Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics and the like is not the proud assertions of our myths that give us the illusion of being chosen, especially set aside or even gifted with deep penetrative awareness of the Unknown. Dialogue between us cannot be more than academic and even further conducive to divisiveness if it centres on the myths with which our ancestors hid and masked their own fears and aspirations. Camus in the Plague was one of the most effective voices of our age to speak out after the horror of the IInd World War, followed by more horrors that continue on almost every continent. Diverting ourselves, hiding behind magnificent edfices of thought and belief, distracting our senses in every manner possible, basking in the illusion that our age has ‘arrived’ keep us away from our real condition which is that we live in deep ignorance and how we respond to it is what determines our common human condition. Our fragile humanity, its fears and strange and lonely courage is what speaks most eloquently throughout our tragic path through history and great revelations, thundering voices over the deserts outside of Mekkah or from the heights of Sinai are not what unite us. What is important in our dialogue is that we discover the true source of our common experience of life and what we project subsequently into the great myths that mask our traditions should draw us not into the illusion of more than an awareness of the great mystery that constitutes the core of the world of which we are but fragments.  


1) In mid-April a group of ten Roman Catholic Students will be arriving from Jerusalem for a week. They will be led by Fr. David Burrell CSC, who was the former Chairperson of the Theology Dept. at the University of Notre Dame. For the several years he has been active in translating  
the works of the great Islamic mystic al-Ghazzali into English and is at present working on the great Andalusian mystic Ibn Arabi. He is on the faculty of the Pontifical Institute at Tantour which is located on the road between Jerusalem and Beth Jallah and which was founded by Pope  
John Paul I for Ecumenical Dialogue. He and his students will have special classes hosted by Etz Hayim on religious and ethnic pluralism as it affected the form of Hania – positively and negatively.  

   2.Plans are afoot for three concerts. At the moment the lack of a budget for such is a problem but plans are going ahead anyway. All of them are being planned for mid-summer when the tourism is high and we can open up both synagogue and both courtyards and perhaps even spill out into the street before the synagogue proper which being a cul de sac has no traffic and is now quite handsome.  

i. One concert is planned of an evening (or two) of Ladino Songs from Salonika by David Saltiel who is one of the last of the great tradition of Judaeo-Espagnol ballad singers.  

ii. A second concert may take place toward the end of the summer with Mevlevi Dervish music by a group of adepts from Istanbul. They will be led by Nezih Uzel whose great grandfather was the last Sheikh of the Mevlevi Tekke of Hania, Semsi Dede. The Mevlevis are also known as the  
‘whirling dervishes’ and what is peculiar about this group is that they are all murids, students of a Master in Istanbul and hence not touristically oriented.  

iii. We are hoping to have an evening lecture by Sheikh Myskah Erkmenkul who is the head of the Kadiri Dervish Order in Turkey sometime in July.  

The Kadiris were one of three dervish orders that were very active in Crete from the 17th cent. until the turn of the 20th when the dervishes departed. Other dervish orders who provided for the spiritual needs of the Cretan Muslim Community were the Helvatis, the Kalandars, the  
Bektashi and onl quite late did the arrival of the Mevlevis occur. The latter were primarily an urban order and closley aligned with the Ottoman Dynasty. The Helvatis and Kadiris were also urban but more directed to the needs of ordinary persons as opposed to the more refined and  
intellectual teachings of the Mevlevis. Both the Kalandars and Bektashi were rural in influence and had an enormous influence on the character of Cretan Islam. The Kadiris, Helvatis and Mevlevis all had tekkes or religious houses in Hania.  

3) An exhibition of paintings by Diana Nelson. Mrs. Nelson lives in Leeds and plans to exhibit the seminal part of a project that she is involved in at the moment. She is a paper-maker and she has offered to put on a five day paper-making seminar in the north courtyard. This is being  
planned for September.  

NOTE: The above concerts have yet to be formalized as the expense involved is beyond the immediate strength of our ‘budget’ – Sugar Daddies or Mommas are welcome to help!!!  


A synagogue with open doors and no congregation is somewhat like one of Kafka’s Paradoxes – ‘A birdcage that went in search of a bird. Despite not having a minyan Etz Hayim is keeping up a steady rhythm or traditional prayers according to the Sephardi Minhag and its doors are open for attendance by Jews or non-Jews. There are siddurim in Hebrew, Greek and English. It is expected that during the tourist season we will have great numbers of participants. Shahrith is at 9:00, Minha at 5:30 and Arvith at 6:30.  

(According to solar and lunar adjustments.)  

HANNUKAH – The eight days were inaugurated with special prayers for the first night and a party for local foreign Jewish residents in Hania and their children. We have a quite splendid wrought iron Hannukiah that stands over 1.80 cms high and we lit this each night and it was set in  
the south courtyard where it could be seen through the gate.  

HAG Ha-ILANOTH – (Los Froutas) We had a quite merry gathering made up of local Christians, Jewis residents and also several local Israelis who have property in Hania and are slowly being drawn into the fold of Etz Hayim.  

PESAH is approaching and plans are afoot for a Seder to be held either in the courtyard of the synagogue or at the Konaki Restaurant (which is not without a certain irony as it is built on the foundations of the old Beth Shalom Synagogue). IF any of the readers of this plan to come please contact the Director immediately as the Athens Jewish Community and Salonika will help in obtaining kosher wine and sufficient matstoth…and accomodations will have to be reserved.  


The small library is located in what was the former mehitza and has been dedicated to the memory of Barbara GHIKA the mother of one of our benefactors. To date we have been trying to build a basic resource library of books for consultation or even research and are concentrating at  
the moment on basic material such as a Talmud, Mishne Torah, (English Hebrew) commentaries and history. The gift of a computer by Meir Shapiro was a challenging blessing as it was brought from Eretz and is of course programmed in Hebrew though Micro-soft could take some  
lessons in user friendly software. By necessity one’s Hebrew vocabulary begins to grow – albeit grudgingly and ‘annoysomly’ at times.  

We welcome any gifts of books or specific funds for the library.  


Through the efforts of Prof. Nicholas de Lange of the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University and Mrs Ruth Sheffer the Director of the Westiminster Scrolls Memorial Trust we are imminently to receive a Sepher Torah of East European provenance. The Sepher is one of  
thousands that were rescued at the termination of the IInd World War and that are carefully preserved and repaired in London at the Trust. Our present Sepher is housed in a fine olive wood tik according to the traditional Oriental custom. The London Sepher is more adaptable to Sephardi (i.e. Spanish rite) insofar as the former must be read upright in its tik and the latter minhag dicates that it be read flat on the bema. (We had a problem over this during the installation of the Sepher in Oct. which had to be removed from its tik and was not at all amused by the hastle.)  

The Association of Friends of Etz Hayim is now fully incorporated under Greek Law as a charity. The acting president is Mr Jean Benzonana and vice-president Moise Constantini. Contact with the Association can be made through the Synagogue.  

Adjacent to the synagogue proper is a building that has been used as a cafe for some years. It was formerly the Talmud Torah of Hania. It has recently come up for sale and would make not only a proper extension of the site of Etz Hayim but would also provide space for future expansion of activities. Its acquisition would also insulate the synagogue complex from encroachment of secular activities. Please contact the Friends of Etz Hayim for more details.  

K’K’ ETZ HAYIM – Hania Tel. & Fax – (0821) 86286, P O Box 251, E-mail:,  73110 Hania, Crete Web site – www., Director – Nicholas Stavroulakis

Copyright: Kol haKEHILA 2000. All rights reserved.
Any reproduction, duplication, or distribution in any form is expressly prohibited.

mail to: KOL haKEHILA