Moisis Elisaf, Greece’s first Jewish mayor, dead at 68

Moisis Elisaf, Greece’s first Jewish mayor, dead at 68

Moisis Elisaf, mayor of the city of Ioannina, in northwestern Greece, and the first Greek-Jew to hold a mayoral post died on Friday after a brief battle with cancer. He was 68.

Elisaf was on a planned work trip to Athens early last December when it was announced by his office that he was hospitalized due to an “unforeseen health problem.” On December 19, he told his deputies in a letter that he was extending his hospitalization due to “serious health reasons.” 

The Ioannina city council held an extraordinary meeting on Friday to cancel all events for the city anniversary celebrations and honor the late mayor at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

He was born in 1954 in Ioannina. His parents were Holocaust survivors who managed to escape the roundup in which most of the city’s Jews were deported to Auschwitz during the Nazi occupation of Greece, with only 9% of the community surviving the war. 

He graduated from the School of Medicine, University of Athens in 1979 and specialized in pathology. He then worked at the Institute of Lipids and Atherosclerosis Research, Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, Sackler School of Medicine, University of Tel-Aviv, Israel (1993-1994). He became a professor of Pathology in the medical school of the University of Ioannina and head of the pathology clinic in the city’s general hospital, and was also the president of the local Jewish community and a member of the Board of Directors of the Central Jewish Council of Greece.

In the municipal elections of 2019, he was a candidate for mayor of Ioannina heading the independent grouping “Ioannina-New Era”. In the first round he received a percentage of 23.82% and in the second he prevailed over his co-candidate and predecessor, Thomas Begas, with 50.33%.

Messages of condolences were sent by President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias, Culture Minister Lina Mendoni, President of the Greek Parliament Constantine Tassoulas, Greek deputies, regional authorities, and German Ambassador to Athens Ernst Reichel, among others. 

Elisaf will be buried at 1 p.m. on Sunday, at the Synagogue of Ioannina, where his family will receive condolences. The family has requested donations to the Synagogue instead of flower tributes.

Ioannina’s Jewish community numbers just a few dozen people today, but was once the center of the unique 2,300 year-old Romaniote Jewish tradition. Romaniotes, who are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic, emerged from the first Jewish communities of Europe.


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