Jewish communities in Greece

At a time when so-called multi-culturalism is very much in fashion, knowledge about Jews in Greece remains scarce. With the exception, perhaps, of Thessaloniki, Greek society is ignorant of the depth, the magnitude and the extent of Jewish presence in contemporary Greece. Stereotypes and ignorance, along with the open wounds of the past have not helped. That is how we ended up with the desecration of the Volos synagogue on New Year’s Eve, when vandals scrawled anti-Israel messages. Similar actions were carried out at the synagogue in Corfu, but also at Athens’s Jewish cemetery. Seen in this context, the exhibition «Jewish Neighborhoods of Greece,» organized by the Jewish Museum of Greece, takes on even greater importance. Its interest is, first of all, educational: The display unravels the history of Greek Jews in 12 Greek cities, based on extensive research that started five years ago. It is based on the testimonies of people who managed to live the good times before the war. The exhibition was shaped according to the existence – and the absence, for that matter – of live evidence, hence some of the communities that were not very active are not featured. The post-war development of Jewish communities in Greek cities has not been uniform. Most of them have almost disappeared. In Volos, for instance, the «Evraika» (Jewish) district has only a tiny Jewish population. The Jewish community is nonexistent on Zakynthos, despite the fact that the island’s Jewish population was untouched by the Nazi atrocities, thanks to the stance of the local bishop and mayor. There are no traces in Kastoria and Xanthi, while in Ioannina only the «Mega Synagoi» (Great Synagogue) is still standing, next to the castle walls; in Trikala only the synagogue and the cemetery bear witness to the past. There are, nonetheless, more encouraging cases. In Rhodes, the «Tzouderia,» the city’s Jewish quarter, is maintained to the present day, with its narrow streets and the distinctive local architecture narrating its history. The synagogue is not only standing, but is also very active. The Larissa community is active as well, especially in cultural events, despite the population reduction. Athens presents a special case: The community of the capital is the only one that enjoyed a post-war population increase, since many Jews from the rest of the country found refuge there. There is not much to say about Thessaloniki, the former metropolis of Mediterranean Jews. There are few traces of its pre-war identity – a great pity for all. Jewish Museum of Greece, 39 Nikis, tel 210.322.5582 and To March 31.

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