Despite the absence of a proper Jewish Kehila in Hania we have been especially committed to insuring that the religious aspect of the Synagogue (i.e. apart from its place amongst the Venetian and Ottoman sites to be visited in Hania) be maintained.
Ever since the first year of the renovation, (1999) when there was neither Ehal nor Bema, the High Holidays have been set aside for special observances. As the years have gone on these have become more elaborate and in keeping with the minhag of the Jews of Greece as much as possible. Very early we were careful to define the role of the Synagogue as being ‘open’ and also non-denominational in the sense too often understood, viz., that a self defined ‘Orthodoxy’ determine in a descending order, the identity of Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or even non-observant Jews. Thus Etz Hayyim was defined was essentially a Prosevchi – a Greek term which was an alternative name given to a Beth H1-Knesset – a place of prayer. This has posed some interesting challenges though happily we have been able to work with them and to find solutions that suit our situation of being a Synagogue without a proper Kehila.
This year we had a quite large attendance at services which were held on both days of Rosh Ha Shannah, Yom Kippour and Sukkoth. The major parts of the services were conducted by Professor Rabbi Nicholas de Lange who is our rabbinical advisor and who comes from the UK to assist us. The services for the most part are modeled on the Mahzorim of Bevis Marks Portuguese and Spanish Synagogue in London. Kol Nidre was attended by some 45 people (even more for Rosh Ha Shannah) and during the day of Kippour the synagogue was able to have the morning service and in the late afternoon the Book of Job was read after which Neilah services began. For the latter a great number of people were present.
As is the case so often at the Synagogue certain problems seem to solve themselves. Due to a quite severe case of the flu Stavroulakis managed to blow the shofar for Rosh Ha Shannah but was wilting by Yom Kippour and a young Israeli, Leor Asher, came to the rescue being in fact an expert shofar blower – who even calls his dogs with a Yemeni horn not unlike ours. Leor has committed himself to coming next year for services with us in Hania.
We had only one small incident when an Israeli participant voiced his disapproval of the presence of Chikito, the Synagogue cat (and ‘mouser’). As both Chikito and his nephew Sutlac are permanent members of the Synagogue his remarks were naturally ignored.