September 1, 2010

First Haircut for a male child

Under: Events, Historical Information by admin at 16:20

The ritual cutting of the hair of a male child is a very ancient custom and is one that Jews, Christians, Muslims and members of other ancient religions share in common. In could be said that there is something ‘Noahic’ about it as it is so ancient and so ritually performed and commonly practiced.  The sign of age is reflected in the colour, loss, or change in texture of hair and is a sign of decline in strength and vigour. In a male child it is the symbol of his virility and strength and to cut it implies a diminishing.  The symbolism of giving, sacrifice and submission to God’s will is very profound.  On Firday afternoon of the 27th August we gathered together in the courtyard of the Synagogue to take part in the ritual cutting of the hair of 2 year old Ezra Garcia, the son of Ovadiah.  In attendance was a proper barber and after we recited appropriate blessing, the father, mother and Stavroulakis, cut off locks of his hair and then the barber did a proper job of straightening it out as Ezra sedately ( and unexpectedly so) ate a handful of grapes. After this we all assembled in the Synagogue and Psalm 67 was sung and the Blessing of the Cohenim was pronounced over him.


August 18, 2010

First Bat Mitzvah in Crete…

Under: Events, Historical Information by admin at 12:18

Letter from London – The first Bat Mitzvah in 2,000 years
By Antony Lerman  |  12/08/2010

As the last of our family and friends leave the old Venetian port city of Hania, Crete, after witnessing and celebrating with us the Bat Mitzvah of our daughter in the island’s only synagogue, we are left with the most extraordinary and moving memories


It’s not easy for a 13-year old, even a very savvy one, to grasp that a moment in which she is participating and living through, and in which she is the centre of attention, is one of historical significance. Yet the fact that this was not only the first Bat Mitzvah on the island since the Jews of Crete were expelled by the Nazis and perished, but also the first Bat Mitzvah in over 2,000 years of Cretan Jewish history, seemed genuinely to touch our daughter as she comported herself with great dignity, composure and maturity during the ceremony.


Though uniqueness was forced upon us, we embraced it willingly. We don’t live on Crete, but the exquisite Romaniote synagogue here has become the closest we have to one of which we can describe ourselves as ‘members’. Rebuilt in the mid-1990s and rededicated and reopened in 2000, it barely has anything like a traditional congregation. There’s not many more than a handful of Jews living in Hania. But there is a wider circle of friends who visit the island regularly, transient Israelis and European Jews (and some from other continents) who have passed through and formed an attachment to the place, and people of other faiths or none who have found something very special about the peace and tranquility of the synagogue, despite the hustle and bustle of the tourist trade, which speaks to them. We count ourselves as part of this ‘community’.


There is no resident rabbi. Nikos Stavroulakis, the man who single-handedly generated the momentum and raised the money to rebuild the synagogue, and who has been the Director since it reopened, leads prayers on Erev Shabbat and prays early on many other days. But for the chagim, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, a rabbi comes from England to take the services. From the outset, Nikos, whose father was from Crete and who returned after the war to reclaim his father’s house, was determined that the synagogue not become only a memorial to the Jews of Crete, and certainly not a museum, but a living entity. It wasn’t possible to bring a rabbi for the Bat Mitzvah, but my older brother, with many years of experience taking services in a small Jewish community in a town north of London, took the lead.


Not being Sephardi Jews, we were kindly given permission to craft a service which basically followed that of the Liberal Jewish movement in Britain, with some Sephardi touches, including the torah-chanting of my daughter. We shared readings between family members, men and women, two of my nieces opened the Ark and my older son and daughter were hagba and gelila, handling the rather fragile torah scroll with some care.


The Bat Mitzvah girl took the theme of ‘giving’ from the parasha (Re’eh) for her d’var torah, and Nikos Stavroulakis discussed the question of ‘what is Jewishness?’ in remarks he addressed to our daughter and the multicultural and multifaith gathering of family and friends. Inclusiveness was the watchword of the entire occasion, which involved everyone giving of themselves and being open to receive something in return.


You can’t dwell in history. We wanted to hold our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in the Etz Hayyim synagogue in Hania for its own sake, because we thought it would have more meaning for her and for us. In a sense, it was also an act of solidarity, but we did not know it was going to be such when we conceived of the idea a year ago. In January 2010, two arson attacks, probably carried out by far-right sympathizers, badly damaged two synagogue outbuildings and part of the synagogue ceiling. It was a deeply dispiriting moment, but there was no question of being cowed by such intimidation. The destroyed structures were rebuilt and the synagogue repaired, repainted and re-polished, and it now looks better than ever. The Bat Mitzvah made a very strong statement: the work goes on.


Who can say whether our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah represents but a brief flowering, an event which will not be repeated, or something more? I have learnt not to second guess such questions. For me, European Jewish life is full of surprises and in the last 20 years has confounded the doom-mongers. This Bat Mitzvah was one more of those delightful surprises.



The letter originally appeared in Eretz Aharet, and was reprinted with permission from the author.

July 5, 2010

Two Recent Articles on the Restoration of the Synagogue…

Under: Historical Information by admin at 13:22

Much had been written about the fires that we faced in January and how they have affected our Synagogue.

Now, after a relatively short amount of time, there is good news to be shared too. We encourage you to read the two excellent articles that ran in the British press by Tony Lerman.

June 18, 2010

Ner Tamid

Under: Historical Information by admin at 12:03

The Ner Tamid in our synagogue was installed in 2000 when the synagogue was rededicated.  For me, at least, it was not what I had hoped for, despite being from the 17th century and with its original silver chains.  I had hoped that it would have been possible to incorporate in it the iron Magen David that I found in 1957 still attached to one panel of the wrought iron gate of the destroyed Jewish cemetery of Hania in Nea Hora.  This panel was being used as a support for a chicken coop. I was able to obtain it with no difficulty and it’s peregrinations began as it accompanied me to Israel (via Athens, London, Marseilles, Haifa) and not long after I began to build the collections of the Jewish Museum of Greece it took up, for me at least, a temporary residence. Alas when I left the Museum in 1993 I did not take it with me which I have regretted as it rightfully belongs here in Hania.   Not long after the second arson attack this year a decision was made to a copper lining in the Ehal. Sam (our only Cohen!) had already been working on making the grills that have been installed on the upper part of the walls and after hope for getting the Magen David from Athens came to nothing we decided to use the design that I had made in 1996 (in anticipation of the renovation of the Synagogue) and to complete the Ner Tamid. The lining for the Ehal has now been installed and the original Venetian glass Ner Tamid has been suspended within a very finely made bronze Magen David with six amber pendants.




February 8, 2010

Progress at Etz Hayyim, 20 January – 6 February

Under: Events, Historical Information by admin at 19:03

After the second arson at the Synagogue we were deluged with reporters, requests for interviews and of course – letters from friends from all over the world.

An update on the fundraising efforts in the US.

Under: Events, Historical Information by admin at 13:25

Just a couple of days after the first fire, Dr. Sam Gruber of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments contacted us offering his help by collecting money for the Synagogue through his charitable organization.

For the lates information on the fundraising being done you can follow the link below:

We thank everyone that has contributed to the Synagogue, and Dr. Gruber for coordinating this effort.

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):

BBC reports on arrest of suspects (text):

The Guardian reports on arrest of suspects:

US State Department Condemns Arson Attacks on Etz Hayyim Synagogue:

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.

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