January 24, 2010

Update on events at Etz Hayyim Synagogue, from the Parnas Director N. Stavroulakis

Under: Historical Information by admin at 16:36

This past week (15 – 22 January) began with Erev Shabbat prayers as usual. Some 20 people gathered in the Kal itself which had been re-painted and polished – it was quite exquisite an atmosphere as all of the benches had been polished in lavender oil and the marble floor had been polished as well. At roughly 4:00 in the morning of Shabbat I was wakened once again by news that yet another fire had been set and by the time I arrived at the Synagogue the main office of the Synagogue – where we had also stored some things that we had rescued from my office and library – had become a raging furnace and by the time the fire had been put out the office was completely gutted. Flames this time had managed to penetrate the synagogue proper against the NW ceiling panels and in putting this fire out it was necessary that fire hoses be directed against it. By the time the fire was out the Synagogue was once again stained, filthy with burnt wood and some of the cushions had been destroyed but both the Ehal and Bimah were untouched and by 9:00 in the morning we began Shahrith prayers as usual in an anxious state of mind.

The week has been quite busy and we are grateful for all of the support that we have had and are having. David Saltiel the President of the Salonika Jewish Community has sent a sum for money for immediate needs that we are facing as serious fund-raising is going on. Also from Salonika Mr Maurice Saporta arrived to set in motion a new security system that the Community will fund for us. There has been little time for much more than making several depositions with police assistance and many telephone interviews from all over the world. I especially must thank the police of Hania for their work and support as well as the local fire brigade that managed to put out the fires with limited peripheral damage. Special thanks are due to the Archaeological Department of Hania and its director Dr. Michael Andreanakis. Through his assistance much paper work that normally is associated with antique buildings has been obviated. It was also Dr. Andreanakis who had made the transference of the bones of 15 Jews found in Nea Hora to the Synagogue burial plot several months ago. (See the post “The recent exhumation of fifteen burials from the former Jewish cemetery of Hania, June 15, 2009 in this blog.)

On Friday, 22 January some 90 people assembled in Etz Hayyim for Erev Shabbat prayers. By far most were Christians who wished to show their concern for the Synagogue and for the spirit of reconciliation that it stands for. Of special importance is that I made a somewhat solemn announcement to all that in keeping with the ancient Jewish practice henceforth annually the Synagogue would celebrate a Special Purim on the 7th of Shevat.

This week work will be concentrated on the Kal proper and also on the blocking in with stone, of the windows of what was once the Yeshiva and is now a Café through one of the windows of which the second attackers entered our courtyard.

N. Stavroulakis

Please see the following examples of news coverage and public statements regarding the arson attacks on Etz Hayyim:

“The Shame of Modern Greece. The country suffers from a lack of moral leadership denouncing the embarrassment of anti-Semitism,” by Andrew Apostolou in Wall Street Journal:


BBC reports on arrest of suspects (video): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8476380.stm

BBC reports on arrest of suspects (text): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8475053.stm

The Guardian reports on arrest of suspects: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/22/britons-arrested-arson-crete-synagogue

US State Department Condemns Arson Attacks on Etz Hayyim Synagogue: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2010/01/135479.htm

January 21, 2010

American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) Condemns Continued Anti-Semitic Attacks

Under: Historical Information by admin at 19:46

Ενώνω τον αποτροπιασμό μου με αυτόν των άλλων Ahepans και αξιοπρεπών Ελλήνων που καταδικάζουν αυτή τη χυδαία πράξη. Ακολουθεί το Δ.Τ. της ΑΧΕΠΑ Αμερικής. Τέτοιες πράξεις δεν εκφράζουν τους Ελληνες και τον Ελληνισμό που δίδαξε τη Φιλοξενία στα πέρατα του Κόσμου.

Κρίμα που ο κάθε ανισόρροπος εκθέτει την Ελλάδα σε μερίδα των πολιτών της που θρησκεύονται διαφορετικά από την πλειοψηφία. Κάθε Έλληνας πολίτης είναι στο σπίτι σε αυτόν τον τόπο και δεν επηρρεάζεται από ατυχείς πράξεις ανθρώπων με κατώτερα και ταπεινά ένστικτα. Το παρόν αναρτώ και στο προφίλ μου στο Facebook, γιατί η συνύπαρξη είναι μια κατάκτηση και όχι κάτι που συμβαίνει από μόνο του.


Νίκος Φαρμακίδης.

WASHINGTON – Nicholas A. Karacostas, supreme president of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), a leading association for the nation’s three million American citizens of Greek heritage, and countless Philhellenes, issued the following statement regarding the continued anti-Semitic attacks upon the historic Etz-Hayyim Synagogue located in Hania, Crete:

“We strongly condemn the anti-Semitic attacks that have been carried out on the Etz-Hayyim Synagogue in Hania. This is the second arson attack in two weeks that has left the synagogue’s infrastructure devastated and approximately 2,500 rare books and other archival items destroyed by fire.

“These anti-Semitic attacks upon the Jewish community in Greece are simply unacceptable. We appeal to the people of Hania, and all Greek citizens, to come together to defy these acts of hatred, intolerance, and bigotry; and to help the healing process begin.

“We call for the swift apprehension of the perpetrators of these heinous attacks so that they may be brought to justice.”

AHEPA is the largest Greek-American association in the world with chapters in the United States, Canada, Greece, Cyprus, and sister chapters in Australia and New Zealand. It was established in 1922 by visionary Greek Americans to protect Hellenes from prejudice originating from the KKK, and in its history, AHEPA joined with the NAACP and B’nai B’rith International to fight discrimination.

The mission of the AHEPA family is to promote the ancient Greek ideals of education, philanthropy, civic responsibility and family and individual excellence through community service and volunteerism.

Petition to the Greek Parliament: Για τον εμπρησμό της συναγωγής των Χανίων

Under: Historical Information by admin at 19:27

Ψήφισμα για τον εμπρησμό της συναγωγής Χανίων, απευθύνεται στο ελληνικό κοινοβούλιο.
Το εξέδωσαν ιστορικοί, κοινωνικοί επιστήμονες στις 17.01.2010 στη ΔΙΗΜΕΡΙΔΑ ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΚΗΣ ΙΣΤΟΡΙΑΣ (16-17.01.2010) στο Πανεπιστήμιο Αθηνώνμε με θέμα: ΔΕΚΑΕΤΙΑ 1940 Η ΕΠΟΧΗ ΤΩΝ ΡΗΞΕΩΝ

Σε αυτή τη διεύθυνση μπορεί να υπογράψει όποιος θέλει (ή και να την προωθήσει σε φίλους )


Το κείμενο του ψηφίσματος που υπάρχει και στην παραπάνω ιστοσελίδα είναι το ακόλουθο:

Για τον εμπρησμό της συναγωγής των Χανίων

To: Greek Parliament


Τον Ιανουάριο του 2010 δύο φορές (μία στις 5 Ιανουαρίου και μία στις 16) η Συναγωγή των Χανίων έγινε στόχος εμπρηστών. Καθώς τα αποτελέσματα της πρώτης φοράς δεν ήταν θεαματικά, επανήλθαν κατορθώνοντας να κάψουν συνολικά 2.500 παλιά και σπάνια βιβλία, μέρος του αρχείου και πολύτιμα αντικείμενα. Την πρώτη φορά είχαν ήδη καεί η ξύλινη οροφή, το πάτωμα, η εσωτερική σκάλα. Τώρα όσα αντικείμενα διεσώθησαν μεταφέρθηκαν αλλού και η κατεστραμμένη Συναγωγή έκλεισε. Η Συναγωγή των Χανίων είναι το μοναδικό ίχνος εβραϊκής παρουσίας στην Κρήτη μετά από 2.400 χρόνια εβραϊκής ζωής σ’ αυτό το νησί. Το 1999 ολοκληρώθηκε η αναστήλωσή της και άρχισε να λειτουργεί ως επισκέψιμο μνημείο πολιτισμού, κόσμημα αρχαιολογικό, αρχιτεκτονικό και συγχρόνως τόπος μνήμης για τους 265 Εβραίους των Χανίων που εκτοπίστηκαν από τους ναζί με πλοίο που βυθίστηκε. Η Συναγωγή αυτή, σε μια πόλη δίχως κοινότητα, μιλούσε για το παρελθόν και αποτελούσε έναν ανοιχτό χώρο συνεύρεσης επισκεπτών και ερευνητών με την πλούσια βιβλιοθήκη και το αρχείο της.

Εμείς, ιστορικοί, κοινωνικοί επιστήμονες και όσοι άλλοι συμμετέχουμε στην «Συνάντηση Κοινωνικής Ιστορίας για τη Δεκαετία του ’40», θεωρούμε εξαιρετικά επικίνδυνες αυτές τις ενέργειες, δείγματα ανόδου μιας επιθετικής ακροδεξιάς, ρατσιστικής, αντισημιτικής και ξενόφοβης. Oι επιθέσεις αυτές, που τον τελευταίο καιρό πολλαπλασιάζονται στην Ελλάδα, είναι πολύ ανησυχητικό σημάδι και απαιτούν εγρήγορση. Καταγγέλλουμε τις ναζιστικής έμπνευσης κινήσεις, που συμβαίνουν λίγες ημέρες πριν την Ημέρα Μνήμης των θυμάτων του Ολοκαυτώματος. Δηλώνουμε επίσης τη συμπαράστασή μας στην ολιγομελή ομάδα εθελοντών που κρατούσε ανοιχτή τη Συναγωγή με προσωπικό μόχθο.


To: The Greek Parliament    


  The Chania Synagogue became the target of arsonists twice during January 2010 (once on January 5th and again on the 16th). Since the results of the first arson were not spectacular enough, the arsonists returned and managed to burn a total of 2,500 old and rare books, part of the archives as well as valuable objects. The wooden roof, floor and interior staircase had already been burnt during the first arson.  Now, all rescued objects have been relocated and the damaged synagogue is closed.

The Chania Synagogue is the only trace of Jewish presence in Crete after 2400 years of Jewish life on this island. Once its restoration was completed in 1999 it began operating as a cultural monument, accessible to visitors, an important archaeological and architectural landmark of the city and at the same time a memorial to the 265 Jews of Crete who perished in a ship that sank while they were being deported by the Nazis. This synagogue, located in a town where there is no official Jewish Community, spoke of the past and was an open meeting space for visitors and researchers, with a rich library and archives. 

We, historians, social scientists and all those participating in the “Meeting on the Social History of the1940s”, consider these acts very dangerous, indices of the rise of an aggressive far-right which is racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic. These attacks, which have recently multiplied in Greece, are a very worrying sign and require vigilance. We denounce the Nazi-inspired acts, which occurred a few days before the international Day of Remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust. We also declare our support for the small group of volunteers who kept the synagogue open with personal devotion.     

 University of Athens – Sunday, January 17th 2010 – Meeting on the Social History of the 1940s

A Letter from London – The last Cretan synagogue lives on. By Antony Lerman

Under: Historical Information by admin at 19:24

I felt sick to my stomach when I heard that the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Hania, Crete, had suffered a second arson attack in 10 days. I got the call just after 9 am on Saturday. The attack had taken place at 3.30 that morning. This Romaniote synagogue is a haven of peace and tranquillity and a meeting ground for Jews, Christians, Muslims and those of no faith, so it seemed like an attack on the very ideas of tolerance and mutual respect, not only an attack on Jews.

The first attack, at 1 am on 6 January, was shocking enough. The unknown intruders set light to a reconstructed ezrat nashim, which was used as a library and office. The stairs were effectively destroyed along with 1,800 books. Smoke and fire debris got into the main synagogue building, staining the walls and woodwork. Within days, amid anger and bewilderment, cleaning and repairing were going on. At the service last Friday evening, with the walls scraped and painted, the wooden wainscot re-stained and the marble floor polished, the small community celebrated its recovery. A few hours later, they were surveying far worse devastation than before. This time an entire small office extension had been gutted. The flames took with it more liturgical and religious books, computers and the entire archives of the synagogue. Flames had burnt through a mesh-covered opening into the synagogue and damaged a part of the ceiling.

I feel part of this community. I got to know the synagogue and its remarkable Director, Dr Nikos Stavroulakis, when I ran the UK-based offshoot of Yad Hanadiv, a Foundation supporting Jewish life in Europe. Through this vehicle the British Rothschild family had contributed to the rebuilding of the synagogue, which was completed in October 1999, and gave continuing support for the synagogue’s programme. Etz Hayyim is the only functioning synagogue on Crete. It was vandalized by the Germans and locals after the remaining 263 members of the Jewish community in Hania were arrested by the Nazis on 24 May 1944. Almost certainly on their way to Auschwitz, their ship was hit by a British torpedo and they all perished.

It was practically a derelict site by the time Nikos, a Jewish art historian, museum designer and curator, author, theatrical costume designer, artist, cookery writer and much more besides, who had returned to his late father’s house in Chania, persuaded the World Monuments Fund and some donors to back a plan to rebuild Etz Hayyim.

Etz Hayyim is no conventional community. There were no other Jews on Crete when Nikos began the rebuilding, but he was determined that it be a living entity, not merely a mini-museum. Over the last 10 years it has become a home for Jews, including some Israelis, of all denominations or none. Some stay for months or longer; some just for a few days or weeks. There are also people of other or no faith who feel at home in the synagogue. It’s a fluid, pluralistic, diverse and largely itinerant population. Not a community in the traditional sense, since it seems to be at the frontier of Jewishness, but it has a postmodern character that reflects the reality of Jewry today.

Do the arson attacks threaten its existence? It may seem especially vulnerable, but it isn’t. Yes, there are antisemites in Hania and Greece faces major youth unrest and disrespect for law and order. And there are those who are even now exploiting this situation to spread their image of Europe as deadly for Jews today. But there are many who are appalled. Nikos is determined to continue and sees the many who have come together to help and offer support as a clear sign that good can emerge from such a tragic incident.

I flew out to Hania on Monday and first thing on Tuesday joined prayers being led by Nikos, while the business of cleaning-up and reconstructing was going on around us. After the second attack, he immediately decided that daily prayers would continue regardless. This affirmed that Etz Hayyim still speaks of a Judaism open to the world, not afraid to enagage, recognizing people’s multiple identities, yet linked to core texts and rituals.

Letter from Etz Hayyim, Crete, Tuesday 19 January, by Antony Lerman

Under: Historical Information by admin at 19:22

We said prayers this morning in the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Hania, three days after it suffered a second arson attack, which destroyed an office extension and burnt part of the ceiling. The acrid smell from smoke and water damage, the sight of streaked and blackened walls and the ashes on the floor were deeply dispiriting. And yet the decision of Nikos Stavroulakis, the director of the Romaniote synagogue that was only reopened after rebuilding in October 1999, to immediately resume daily prayers, and the cleaning up and repair activity going on all around, spoke volumes for the resilience and determination of a unique and inspiring community.

I first came across Etz Hayyim 8 years ago when I was running the Rothschild foundation supporting Jewish life in Europe, which had helped fund the rebuilding and supported the synagogue’s programme. Everyone I know who goes to Etz Hayyim, situated in the narrow streets of the former Jewish quarter of Crete’s second city, is charmed by its magical qualities. Now the only functioning synagogue on Crete, Etz Hayyim was vandalized by the Germans and locals after the remaining 263 members of the Jewish community in Hania were arrested by the Nazis on 24 May 1944. Almost certainly on their way to Auschwitz, their ship was hit by a British torpedo and they all perished.

Although what was left of the building became the property of the Central Board of the Jewish Communities of Greece, it looked destined for complete destruction until Dr Stavroulakis, a Jewish art historian and museum designer, who had returned to his late father’s house in Hania, persuaded the World Monuments Fund and some donors to back the synagogue’s rebuilding. Although there were no other known Jews on Crete, Nikos wanted to create a living synagogue. “A cage went in search of a bird”, Nikos said, quoting Kafka, and the bird came. There are Jews, including some Israelis, of all denominations or none. Some stay for months or longer; some just for a few days or weeks. There are also Christians and Muslims and people of no faith who find meaning in the ways of the synagogue.

Last Friday night the community celebrated its recovery from the first arson attack on 6 January, which damaged part of a restored women’s section. The marble floor had been polished, the wainscot re-stained and the walls scraped and repainted. At 3.30 the following morning, arsonists struck again more devastatingly.

The police and local authorities were slow to respond after the first attack, but after the second, the incident was given wide international publicity and pressure from the central government resulted in a much augmented investigation. The incidents may have been the work of antisemitic groups, but there’s no evidence so far. There are such far-rightists in Hania, but there are also other violent and extreme elements, some linked to drug-selling. And Greek society is still experiencing more general violent protest among students.

Having visited the synagogue many times over the last 7 years, it seemed right to come and offer solidarity on behalf of the synagogue’s many friends. I’ll return with the message that, as we all knew, Etz Hayyim operates in challenging circumstances, but will continue to provide an enriching experience for anyone who falls under its spell.

Antony Lerman is the former Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research

January 19, 2010


Under: Historical Information by admin at 21:10

The latest fire managed to destroy all of what we had felt grateful to have been left with! Whatever we had salvaged from the first fire had been taken to the main office – books, CDs, a Mevelevi dervish habit and conical felt hat, some of my notebooks and the like. The second attack saw the ground floor and first floor of the office and library above gutted. Fortunately, all of the books there – perhaps 1000 or so on Judaism, Islam and Christian theology had already been moved to safe keeping and so have been saved….but two computers, scanner, cameras etc. – all gone!

The police have been very good with us and have been very thorough and sensitive to what has happened. In the following days we will try to be more prompt in giving information. Actually in many ways Etz Hayyim has succeeded in its role as a reconciler and I have been blessed with finding many old friends and we have re-established our links. Equally important is the effect that this has had on our ‘fraternity’ which has been strengthened and given a firm direction and truly has become a community. We are a strange lot – some Jews – religious, non-religious and some perhaps even anti-religious, some are Christians – both Catholic as well as Orthodox and we also have Muslims. All of us are cemented into a community through the magic of this precious synagogue. Through this fire – somewhat like that which our Father Abraham experienced on that night when the sacrifices were consumed and he stood in awe before what appeared to be a smoking oven, we have digested our differences and set about finding what unites us in silence and emerges as a whisper.

We are still in the difficult period of balancing work that must be done with incoming funds as they were disproportionate at the moment.

To date we have started work on the new security system which is a gift from the Jewish Community of Salonika through its president David Saltiel. Work has begun on the grill to be installed over the back garden gate as well as the bars that are to be installed over all of the windows that were once those of the yeshiva (this property became an asset of the Bank of Greece after WW II and then was sold to a Christian – and subsequently became known as the Synagogue Cafe.) It was through one of these opened windows that the second incendiary entered our property. The electrician has already connected some of our lines and tomorrow we will get the telephone installed – in the synagogue proper (for the moment). Alex and Anja (and the Synagogue) have a temporary office and computers not too far away and the work on the stairs to the old office may well be finished by the end of the week when work can be started on cleaning up, working on bookcases and seeing how deep the fire reached into the floor and ceiling. This will also have to be done in the Kal itself as several of the wooden panels of the ceiling had started to burn.

I wish to thank all of the friends who have shown such care for this synagogue which seems to have embraced and been embraced by the entire world.

Nikos Stavroulakis

January 17, 2010

Second Arson Attack on Etz Hayyim Synagogue

Under: Events, Historical Information by admin at 00:06

On the night of Friday, January 15, after more than a week of work on the sanctuary – newly scraped, primed and re-painted; the wood-work oiled with lavender and the marble floor polished – we met for Erev Shabbat prayers and Kiddush. Later we locked the synagogue and returned to our homes feeling that we had set our steps forward. Saturday morning at 3:30 AM however the Synagogue’s director was wakened by the alarm that had been set off in the Synagogue and rushed there accompanied by two helpers to find the entire main office ablaze. They began putting out the fire with the garden hose as the firemen had not yet succeeded in getting their hoses connected. When the mains were finally connected the firemen set to work – by 4:45 the fire was only smoldering and all that remained of the upper and lower office was completely gutted. Also about a third of the wooden ceiling of the Synagogue itself was burnt, the benches covered in soot and broken wood, the floor a mess – but the EHAL was not touched! Everything in the main office – e.g. two computers, complete Talmud, Midraschim, 2 sets of Rashi lexicons (Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew) plus many reference books and the entire archive of the Synagogue have all been destroyed.

By noon the Siphrei Torah along with all of the silver ornaments (rimonim, tassim, yads etc.) and a precious early 17th century illuminated Qur’an were removed to a secure location. It was a sad moment to see them being taken away from the Kal as it was a joyous moment when they had been installed in 1999. But we are determined that they will come back!

January 17, 2010. Today, after Shahrith prayers in the ravaged Kal we will all meet to look into the task before us.  We must insure that we keep the Synagogue alive as place for prayer and even – more pertinently under the circumstances – recollection.  It is difficult at this moment to quite grasp how one faces the formidable task of reconciliation – with what exactly? ignorance, wickedness? – whatever it was – and is – (since the cause of all of this is still to be determined) our gift to Hania is our presence and our determination to continue to bear witness to values that are being severely tried at this moment.  We have many friends and are deeply grateful for the support in whatever form it has taken. It will now take some time for us to become contemporary as so much has been lost in terms of computers and contents (though we have located the hard drives of the computers and hopefully something can be done to contents).

Please keep posted through this blog as matters evolve as we will use for keeping a log of events.

N. Stavroulakis

January 15, 2010

New Aquisition

Under: Historical Information by admin at 12:53

New Acquisition – a silver TAS (breastplate) for a Sepher Torah.

Several weeks ago I heard of the existence of what I thought then, might have been a Jewish silver artifact that was for sale in Heraklion. Had this been brought o my attention now it would have been impossible to justify its purchase in the face the heavy anticipated expenses.  My immediate interest and concerns were high as the chance of finding a Jewish religious artifact from Crete, 60 years after the sacking of our synagogue in 1944, seemed remote. However, some years ago I was given a silver amulet case – 18th century that had belonged to a Jew from Hania and I had also found by chance a silver ‘yad’.  After receiving photographs on the computer it was possible to determine that it was a Jewish Tas – though it had no lineage save what could be deduced from the technique used in making it. After an appeal to four of our Friends I was able to purchase it and it is now in the Ehal.

The Tas is of silver in filigree technique with small lozenges and balls applied the its surface over the filigree. It is slightly smaller than a CD disc in circumference, central to it is a large Magen David. Two small pendant silver balls in the same technique and a central carnelian pendant as well hang from the bottom by three small chains.  The silver chains for facilitating it to be hung on the Torah are double links.

The technique used in this artifact is not that of Ioannina where there was a tradition of Jewish-Christian collusion in the creation of Synagogue art. There has not been time to determine exactly where this piece was made but it is possible that it is either from Izmir or even the Yemen. At a later date we will have perhaps more information on it but the chance that it once was part of the loot taken from Etz Hayyim is more than important for us.

N. Stavroulakis

One Week After the Fire

Under: Historical Information by admin at 11:27

Overview of the past few days at Etz Hayyim – 6th – 15th January 2010

Our own situation here in Hania assumed a quite different dimension when news broke of the disaster in Haiti. Quite naturally our own problems became less of a burden when one became aware of the incredibly sad and nightmarish situation there – not only for the loss of life but for the situation with the living and the challenge of re-constructing a new life in the ruins of a failed state as it was.

On the morning of the 6th with the lingering whisps of acrid smoke about us a few gathered in the wretched looking sanctuary to say Shahrtih prayers after which we had a quick meeting to set things in motion.  Fortunately we have a very good team of people who have worked on the Synagogue over the past 10 years – and by 11:00 AM the carpenter had come to measure for the new stair and to check on the condition of the floors etc. in the library (Ezrath Nashim).  The electrician had checked the wiring by mid-afternoon and reconnected the library to the mains and Besnik and his cousin Artan moved the furniture to provide space for the work on the sanctuary. Sam Cohen and Nasser set about ordering the metal supports etc. for an extension of the gate to the back garden where the arsonists had broken in and so from day 1 we had begun the work and it has continued daily since then so that this evening  – we will have Erev Shabbat services in a quite brilliant Kal. The walls have been scraped down from soot, rivulets of soot blackened water that were streaking them.  After priming the walls were then painted white after the stone blocks of the Venetian arches had been cleaned as well.

We were especially thankful on that morning for a letter of concern by the superior or the Franciscan friary nearby, Fr. Pietro, and the visit of Fr. Angelo, one of the friars who gave us his blessing before he left.

As the fire had not directly penetrated the sanctuary the Ehal and Siphrei Torah were un-affected as were several quite valuable books including a 17th century Ottoman Qur’an.

Assessment of general loss has been made – though I personally found it impossible to go up to the office and library until the Sunday after the attack. The actual flames that had finally broken through the stair-well had burnt the backs and upper pages of all of the books on Ottoman architecture, Islamic Calligraphy and Persian and Mughal art as well as many monographs and all of the catalogues and photo-copies of articles etc. relevant to these subjects. The area set aside for Byzantine art and architecture which contained catalogues of exhibitions of Byzantine icons over the past 40 years plus monographs and books concerning Byzantine iconography – some being valuable material from Dumbarton Oaks – had also suffered the same damage as did the section of Jewish religious art and architecture – especially the section on the early roots of Jewish and Christian iconography. The south wall of the library which contained books on Ancient and Medieval European history – plus Modern Greece and Crete – (the complete Cambridge Ancient History and Cambridge Medieval History) had all suffered from the intense heat that had built up in the space…as if they had been baked in a very hot oven and rendered brittle and in cases in a state of fragmentation. After consultation with a book conservationist in Athens we finally accepted that the library of some 1500 books was a ‘write off’…as were the two computers, CD player and about 130 or so CDs of music – Sephardi religious and secular  as well as Ottoman Sephardi.

Especially saddening was the murraka (illuminated collage) of the famous 17th century calligrapher Osman Effendi which had been reduced to ashes in its frame. Bizarrely the second volume of Rashi that I had been consulting lay on my desk – next to the melted computer – undamaged by heat and smoke!  Three Ottoman brocades from the 16th century were discovered to be intact and unharmed behind soot blackened glass as well as the conical felt hat worn by Mevlevi Dervishes and a complete Mevlevi habit worn in the performance of the sema (the ritual whirling dance of the dervishes).  All of these had been sitting on one of three large 19th century Afghan embroidered bolsters that also had been un-affected by the fire and smoke.

Today, this evening, when we gather for Erev Shabbat prayers we can be thankful that this quite senseless and quite wicked act has had some incredibly positive results in uniting our efforts here to quickly have Etz Hayyim functioning and alive as it has been over the past years. It is quite impossible to thank all of you who have responded so immediately to our need here – financially and morally through e-mails and letters. Thus far we have had the daily presence and hard work of Alex, Anja, Angela Tsourounaki (who brings us home-made pies and pizzas), Konstantine Fisher and Paola Nikotera, David Weber, Marianna Vinther – as well as many others…(see the pictures below).

Nikos Stavrouakis / Director- Etz Hayyim Synagogue

January 7, 2010

Fire at Etz Hayyim Synagogue Hania – Crete

Under: Events, Historical Information by admin at 14:48

At approximately 12:20-1:00 AM on the night of the 5th January, a serious attack was made on the fabric of the Synagogue. One or two or even more individuals made their way into the south garden of the synagogue by climbing over the iron gate. Subsequent to this they set about making an improvised incendiary device by tearing open a large Ottoman cushion in the mikveh and then with the contents stuffed a canister that was filled with some flammable liquid which was then set afire under the wooden stair of the ezrat nashim.  (The upper floor of the women’s section (ezrat nashim) serves as the office of the director as well as a library and reading room and contains valuable books in various languages on Ottoman, Byzantine and Jewish art and architecture as well as resource books on European and Near Eastern History from pre-historic times as well as a large section on Cretan history. A computer and CD player with over 150 CDs of Sephardic liturgical and secular music were also kept in the office.) Within probably minutes the assailants had taken off and the fire produced smoke that poured into the synagogue proper and then out into the street through the oculus in the facade of the synagogue. Yannis Pietra, an Albanian emigrant living not far from the Synagogue, smelled the smoke and looking into the street saw it belching out of the facade and called the police, fire-station and then set off to find the director who arrived not long after along with Besnik Seitas the handyman of the Synagogue. At roughly the same time a young Moroccan, Nasr Alassoud, also traced the smoke that was coming down the street to the harbor. He proved to be a much needed hand by the director. By 1:45 AM the fire brigade had extinguished the fire and the police had begun their work. But the residual damage was only going to be apparent the next day. Anja Zuckmantel-Papadakis, our librarian and her husband arrived not long after the fire was extinguished. What was quite notable was the lack of ‘locals’ despite the quite incredible noise of the synagogue alarm system and sirens from the two fire engines screeching through the neighborhood. What was even more disturbing and an obvious sign of a lack of civic responsibility was the apparent lack of sensitivity to the fact that had the synagogue been engulfed in flames at least half of the old city of Hania would have gone up in flames as the narrow streets and inaccessible quarters would have prevented access by the fire brigades. By 7:00 AM a deposition was made by the director with the police and the somewhatience of assessing the damage done was carried out. Members of the Synagogue fraternity: Paola Nikotera, Konstantine Fischer, Sam Cohen and David Webber were on hand to examine what had taken place – to books, structure as well as to assist the police in establishing evidence part of which was a bar of soap that had been thrown against the outer wall. (A common anti-semitic quip in Greek runs…’I'll make you into a bar of soap!’) As the mains of the Synagogue had been disconnected in the course of extinguishing the fire, we were informed that it would perhaps take up to a week to have them reconnected. The prospect was met when Mr Giorgos Archontakis, an engineer, offered to help us with this. As we were dealing with this, Angeliki Psaraki our photographer arrived to take pictures of the damage and later with Mr Archontakis. These two were successful in submitting the necessary papers to the Electric Company and by 5:00 PM we had electricity again which considerably raised morale though the damage by now was even more apparent. The Siphrei Torah were fortunately well protected in their Ehal but the walls of the interior of the sanctuary as the wooden ceiling have been streaked and covered by water laden soot as well. Much of the naked stone on the interior has been badly stained and by early evening we set in motion plans for the cleaning of the walls and even ordered the scaffolding. By late evening our carpenter, Mr Manthos Kakavelakis had taken measurement for the new stair as the old one was completely gutted in the fire and we had discussed the creation of a solid stone wall to protect the new library entrance. This structure will be articulated so as to include the entrance to the mikveh. All of the carpets of the synagogue (some 30 odd and most of them antique Turkish) had been covered with soot and messed about by the fire-fighters and police. These have been packed up in readiness for cleaning. On the 6th January, a day after the fire we assembled together to recite Shaharith prayers at 9:00 as is our custom. The atmosphere was understandably sombre but the director – Mr Stavroulakis – tried to divert some of the understandable anger by looking over what had happened over the past 24 hours or so. We must be angry over what has happened to our synagogue. If we were not it would be an indication that we were either indifferent or morally numb. But exactly against what is our anger directed? The urban context in which Etz Hayyim figures at this moment must be considered carefully and any indifference on the part of the citizens to the material fabric of this city and its collective ‘psyche’ is tantamount to abetting to a degree the desecration of monuments, of homes and sites of common meeting. What we must be angry about is the ignorance that determines racism, discrimination or badly examined lives. We have tried at Etz Hayyim to be a small presence in the midst of what is at times almost aggressive ignorance. We have done this to such a degree that our doors are open from early in the morning until late in the day so that the Synagogue assumes its role as a place of prayer, recollection and reconciliation. In many ways we have been successful through this quiet presence – perhaps our ‘silent presence’ wears not too well on some and is even a source of annoyance to others. Often I have pointed out that we are perhaps the only synagogue of significance in Greece, possibly Europe, where there is little if any overt sign of protective security. Hand-bags are not checked, ID cards and passports are not examined, and one is not obliged to sign in. This character of the Synagogue must not change and the doors must remain open – or we have given in to the ignorance that has perpetrated this desecration. Our awareness of what ignorance can do to us will certainly determine how certain repairs are to be made – but at the same time we must be cautious about allowing ignorance to affect or determine the nature of our presence. We will have a heavy burden of funding the necessary renovations and we hope that you as either old friends or new ones will assist us.

People wishing to make a donation can do it in one of two ways, wire transfers can be made to directly to the Synagogue account at…

ALPHA BANK (Hania, Crete)

Account name: Friends of Etz Hayyim

Account # 776-002101-087154

IBAN:  GR74 0140 6600 7760 0210 1087 154



Or checks may be sent to…


International Survey of Jewish Monuments
Attn: Sam Gruber

PO Box 210
118 Julian Place
Syracuse, NY 13210

Please be sure to note on your checks that it is for Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania. The ISJM is a registered charity in the US (for more information you can see their site www.isjm.org).


Nicholas Hannan-Stavroulakis / Director Etz Hayyim Synagogue/ Hania

Article in local newspaper “Haniotika Nea”



Περίπου στις 12.20-1.00 το βράδυ της 5ης Ιανουαρίου, σοβαρή επίθεση σημειώθηκε κατά του κτηρίου της Συναγωγής των Χανίων. Ένας ή περισσότεροι δράστες μπήκαν στη Συναγωγή μέσω του νότιου κήπου, πηδώντας πάνω από τη σιδερένια πόρτα. Στη συνέχεια, έφτιαξαν έναν αυτοσχέδιο εμπρηστικό μηχανισμό ανοίγοντας ένα μεγάλο οθωμανικού τύπου μαξιλάρι στο μικβέ (τελετουργική δεξαμενή νερού). Έβαλαν το περιεχόμενο του μαξιλαριού σ’ ένα δοχείο, το κατάβρεξαν με ένα εύφλεκτο υγρό και έβαλαν φωτιά κάτω από την ξύλινη σκάλα του εζράτ νασίμ.

To εζράτ νασίμ, που είναι ο πάνω όροφος του γυναικωνίτη, χρησιμοποιείται ως γραφείο του διευθυντή αλλά και ως βιβλιοθήκη/αναγνωστήριο ενώ περιέχει πολύτιμα βιβλία σε διάφορες γλώσσες για την Oθωμανική, Βυζαντινή και Εβραϊκή τέχνη και αρχιτεκτονική, βιβλία με έγκριτες και λεπτομερείς αναφορές για την ιστορία της Ευρώπης και της Εγγύς Ανατολής από τους προϊστορικούς ακόμη χρόνους καθώς και μεγάλο μέρος της κρητικής ιστορίας.

Ένας υπολογιστής και ένα cd player με περισσότερα από 150 CD λειτουργικής αλλά και λαϊκής μουσικής διατηρούνταν στο γραφείο.

Μέσα σε λίγα, μάλλον, λεπτά οι δράστες είχαν διαφύγει και η πυρκαγιά δημιούργησε καπνό που πέρασε στον κύριο χώρο της συναγωγής και μετά στο δρόμο, μέσα από το άνοιγμα της πρόσοψης.

O Γιάννης Πιέτρα, Αλβανός μετανάστης που ζει κοντά στη Συναγωγή, μύρισε τον καπνό και κοιτάζοντας προς το δρόμο, διαπίστωσε πως προερχόταν από την πρόσοψη του κτηρίου. Kάλεσε αμέσως την Αστυνομία, την Πυροσβεστική και ξεκίνησε να βρει το διευθυντή που έφτασε λίγο αργότερα μαζί με τον Μπεσνίκ Σεϊτάς που είναι ο επιστάτης της Συναγωγής. Περίπου την ίδια στιγμή ένας νεαρός μαροκινός, ο Νασρ Αλ Ασούντ, εντόπισε τον καπνό που κατευθυνόταν πλέον προς το λιμάνι και έσπευσε να βοηθήσει, πολύτιμος αρωγός του διευθυντή.

Μέχρι τις 1.45 π.μ., η Πυροσβεστική είχε σβήσει τη φωτιά και η Αστυνομία είχε ξεκινήσει το έργο της. Αλλά η ζημιά σε όλο της το μέγεθος θα γινόταν ορατή μόνο την επόμενη μέρα. Η Άνια Ζουκμαντελ-Παπαδάκη, η βιβλιοθηκονόμος μας και ο σύζυγός της έφτασαν λίγο μετά την κατάσβεση της πυρκαγιάς. Αυτό που ήταν εντυπωσιακά εμφανές ήταν η απουσία “ντόπιων” παρά τον απίστευτο θόρυβο του συναγερμού της Συναγωγής αλλά και των σειρήνων από δυο πυροσβεστικά οχήματα που ηχούσαν στη γειτονιά. Περισσότερο ανησυχητική όμως ήταν η προκλητική απουσία κοινωνικής ευθύνης και ευαισθησίας διότι αν η συναγωγή είχε παραδοθεί στις φλόγες, τουλάχιστον η μισή Παλιά Πόλη των Χανίων θα είχε γίνει παρανάλωμα του πυρός δεδομένου ότι οι στενοί δρόμοι καθιστούν αδύνατη την πρόσβαση των πυροσβεστικών οχημάτων.

Μέχρι τις 7 το πρωί η Αστυνομία είχε πάρει κατάθεση από τον  Διευθυντή και ξεκίνησε η καταθλιπτική εμπειρία της καταγραφής των ζημιών. Μέλη της Αδελφότητας της Συναγωγής: η Πάολα Νικοτέρα, ο Κωνσταντίνος Φίσερ, ο Σαμ Κοέν και ο Ντέιβιντ Γουέμπερ βρέθηκαν στο σημείο για να εξετάσουν τις καταστροφές που είχαν υποστεί τα βιβλία, η ίδια η κατασκευή αλλά και να βοηθήσουν την Αστυνομία στην εύρεση στοιχείων, μέρος των οποίων ήταν μια πλάκα σαπουνιού που είχε εκτοξευθεί ενάντια στον εξωτερικό τοίχο. (Μέρος της κλασικής αντισημιτικής ρητορείας στην Ελλάδα είναι “Θα σε κάνω σαπούνι!”). Μιας και η ηλεκτρική παροχή είχε διακοπεί κατά τη διάρκεια της πυρόσβεσης, μάθαμε ότι μπορεί να χρειαζόταν μέχρι και μια βδομάδα για την επανασύνδεση με το δίκτυο. Αυτή η δυσοίωνη πρόβλεψη αντιμετωπίστηκε όταν ο κ. Γιώργος Αρχοντάκης, ένας μηχανικός, προσφέρθηκε να μας βοηθήσει. Καθώς αντιμετωπίζαμε το γεγονός, έφτασε η φωτογράφος μας Αγγελική Ψαράκη για να καταγράψει με το φακό της τις ζημιές. Μαζί με τον κ. Αρχοντάκη πέτυχαν να καταθέσουν τα απαραίτητα δικαιολογητικά στη ΔΕΗ και στις 5 το απόγευμα ξαναείχαμε ρεύμα το οποίο μας ανύψωσε αρκετά το ηθικό, αν και μέχρι τότε οι ζημιές έγιναν αισθητά πιο ορατές.

Τα βιβλία της Τορά ευτυχώς ήταν καλά προστατευμένα μέσα στο Εχάλ αλλά οι τοίχοι του εσωτερικού του ιερού και του ξύλινου ταβανιού είχαν μαυρίσει από τον καπνό και γεμίσει από το μείγμα αιθάλης και νερού. Μεγάλο μέρος της εμφανούς λιθοδομής στο εσωτερικό έχει βαφεί άσχημα, έτσι, από νωρίς το απόγευμα ξεκίνησαν οι προετοιμασίες για τον καθαρισμό και κανονίστηκαν οι σκαλωσιές. Αργότερα, ο μαραγκός μας κ. Μάνθος Κακαβελάκης πήρε τα μέτρα για την καινούργια σκάλα, μιας και η προηγούμενη είχε παντελώς καταστραφεί και συζητήθηκε η δημιουργία ενός γερού πέτρινου τοίχου που θα προστατεύει την καινούργια είσοδο της βιβλιοθήκης. Αυτή η κατασκευή θα φτιαχτεί έτσι ώστε να προστατεύει και την είσοδο στο μικβέ. Όλα τα χαλιά της συναγωγής (περίπου 30 και τα περισσότερα αντίκες οθωμανικής κατασκευής) είχαν καλυφθεί από το μείγμα αιθάλης και νερού και ποδοπατηθεί από τους πυροσβέστες και αστυνομικούς. Αυτά έχουν ήδη μαζευτεί για να σταλούν προς αποκατάσταση.

Στις 6 Ιανουαρίου, μια μέρα μετά την πυρκαγιά συγκεντρωθήκαμε για τις πρωινές προσευχές, στις 9, όπως το συνηθίζουμε. Η ατμόσφαιρα ήταν σαφώς μελαγχολική αλλά ο Διευθυντής μας, ο κ. Σταυρουλάκης, προσπάθησε να αποσαφηνίσει μέρος της κατανοητής οργής, ανακεφαλαιώνοντας το τι είχε συμβεί στις τελευταίες 24 ώρες.

«Πρέπει να είμαστε οργισμένοι για το τι συνέβη στη Συναγωγή μας. Αν δεν ήμασταν, θα ήταν δείγμα ότι ήμαστε αναίσθητοι ή ηθικά μουδιασμένοι. Αλλά ενάντια σε τι ο θυμός μας κατευθύνεται; Το οικιστικό περιβάλλον μέσα στο οποίο βρίσκεται η Ετς Χαΐμ πρέπει να μελετηθεί προσεκτικά και η όποια αδιαφορία από τη μεριά των πολιτών προς το υλικό περιβάλλον της πόλης και τη συλλογική ψυχή της, υποβοηθά, έστω και αθέλητα, μέχρις ενός βαθμού, στη βεβήλωση μνημείων, σπιτιών και χώρων κοινωνικής συνεύρεσης. Αυτό για το οποίο πρέπει να οργιστούμε είναι η άγνοια που προκαλεί ρατσισμό, διακρίσεις ή λάθος θεωρήσεις της ζωής. Έχουμε προσπαθήσει να κάνουμε την Ετς Χαΐμ μια μικρή παρουσία στο επίκεντρο αυτού που μερικές φορές φτάνει να είναι μια επιδεικτική αδιαφορία. H θετική μας θέληση είναι τόση, που οι πόρτες μας είναι ανοικτές από νωρίς το πρωί μέχρι αργά το βράδυ ώστε η Συναγωγή να εκπληρώνει το ρόλο της ως χώρου προσευχής, συγκέντρωσης και συμφιλίωσης. Με πολλούς τρόπους έχουμε πετύχει αυτό το στόχο – ίσως η σιωπηλή μας παρουσία δε γίνεται ανεκτή από ορισμένους και ίσως είναι πηγή ενόχλησης σε άλλους.

Έχω συχνά τονίσει ότι είμαστε η μοναδική σημαντική Συναγωγή στην Ελλάδα, ίσως σε ολόκληρη την Ευρώπη, που δε διαθέτει κάποια έντονη προστασία. Oι τσάντες δεν ελέγχονται, οι ταυτότητες και τα διαβατήρια δεν επιδεικνύονται και κανείς δεν είναι υποχρεωμένος να δηλώσει το ποιος είναι. Αυτός ο χαρακτήρας της Συναγωγής οφείλει να μην αλλάξει και οι πόρτες να παραμείνουν ανοικτές διότι διαφορετικά θα παραδοθούμε στην άγνοια που ευθύνεται γι’ αυτή τη βεβήλωση. Η γνώση μας για το τι είναι ικανή η άγνοια να πετύχει σίγουρα θα παίξει ρόλο στο πώς θα πραγματοποιηθούν ορισμένες επισκευές αλλά την ίδια στιγμή πρέπει να είμαστε προσεκτικοί και να μην αφήσουμε αυτή την άγνοια να επηρεάσει ή να καθορίσει τη φύση της παρουσίας μας.

Θα επωμιστούμε το μεγάλο βάρος να χρηματοδοτήσουμε τις απαραίτητες επισκευές και ελπίζουμε ότι είτε σαν παλιοί φίλοι είτε σαν καινούργιοι, θα μας βοηθήσετε. Κάθε δωρεά είναι ευπρόσδεκτη και θα εκτιμηθεί.

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