|file: THE SYNAGOGUE ETZ
HAYIM IN HANIA, CRETE
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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
- 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
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
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.
NEW SEPHER TORAH
When the synagogue was re-dedicated
in October 1999 a Sepher Torah was ceremoniously installed by Rabbi
Not long after the dedication Rabbi
Nicholas de Lange visited us and also began the work of translating the
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
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.
SERVICES IN THE SYNAGOGUE
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 FRIENDS OF ETZ HAYYIM
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.
For details and information please
contact the Director at:
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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!!!
RELIGIOUS LIFE at ETZ HAYIM
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
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.
A ‘NEW’ SEPHER TORAH
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 73110 Hania, Crete Web site – www. etz-hayim-hania.org, Director – Nicholas Stavroulakis
Copyright: Kol haKEHILA 2000.
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