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.
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