November 28, 2013

Hanukah 2013

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Tonight we are here together to celebrate a minor Jewish festival that commemorates the restoration and re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 166 BCE.  It is sometimes called the Jewish Festival of light.  Its central theme and symbol is the great gold seven branched lamp that stood in front of the Holy of Holies in keeping with the Law of Moses. Too often in our enthusiasm in lighting the wicks night after night for eight days until the entire surrounding is illuminated we forget some of the incidents that led to either the revolt of the peasantry of Judaea under the leadership of Judas Macchabaeus against the ‘Greek’ rulers of the land…or the involvement of even the Temple and its priesthood in perhaps creating the conditions that led to it.

On the death of Alexander the Great in 331 BCE his conquest was divided amongst his Macedonian generals after much contention.  After the absorption of the Greek city states, Egypt and the trans Mesopotamian Empire of the Persians that  had  conquered the Assyrian, Babylonian and Sumerian kingdoms of what we all today southern Iraq, the world had changed considerably. Under the Macedonians were their attempts to unify at least some aspects of it according to what were called by some, the dream of Alexander.  One world, one ruler, one God, a single language and even a model for the intermarriage of peoples who had hitherto lived quite separated cultural and religious lives. How many of these aspirations (ideals?)are attributable to him are perhaps questionable as his later biographers tended to magnify his exploits and the magic of his person.. Nonetheless this new world was certainly, though diminutive in many respects, had become globalized, Apparently no people escaped the temptation of repudiate their old traditions in order to participate: socially, intellectually and even religiously, in it…the Jews were no exception.

Most likely in emulation of Alexander who had named his model city Alexandria and given it a constitution modeled on that of Athens. A distant relative of Alexander, Antiochus named his new capitol Antioch that included within it administratively not only Syria but also the Jewish Commonwealth that had emerged after rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. By 168 especially the urban Temple priesthood, and circles associated with it, had to a degree become ‘Hellenized’, spoke and dressed like and took Greek names. In 168 BCE through edict of King Antiochus and in collusion with the priesthood Judaism as such was proscribed, and the Temple re-dedicated to Zeus, pigs offered on its altar and the Law of Moses: the guardians of Jewish identity was profaned. Jerusalem became part of the new globalism. The great ever burning Seven branched candlestick was extinguished.

By 166 a revolt was intricately organized and programmed that was initiated by the family of Judah the Hashmonean and on a night suddenly bonfires were ignited that seemed to catch each other’s fire until the hill tops were ablaze and the revolt succeeded in seizing Jerusalem.  The re-establishment of the Jewish state was a given a miracle to mark its success as well…It is said that when the Temple had been cleansed and it was the hour to light the great Menorah that no ritually pure olive oil could be found save in a single ewer that refilled itself nightly as eight days passed until suitable oil could be brought.

Thus, in our synagogue since at least 1996 when we began the work of renovation annually we light our menorot – one placed prominently before one of the iron gates for all to see to attest to our adherence to Jewish values.  This year it is done with some anxiety which is not part of the spirit of the festival as we have little oil for it.

The profanation of the Temple in collusion with some of its priests and certainly of the

Jewish establishment of the time, has been forgotten in the course of re-telling of the event.

It is customary to lay full blame on the ‘Greeks’ which, in this context actually means

Jews who had already made their own kind of compromise with Greek culture and civilization. Seeking meaning and definition in the secular globalized world that opened un-explored means of economic and social advancement…or to Macedonian and Syrian mercenaries in the army of King Antiochus.

The Temple was, at this time, the central focus of Jewish life.  Its rituals, priesthood and sacrifices carried out three times a day were by many understood as the stable pivot on which the world is balanced and was the source of Jewish identity as adherents to the Torah.

I can say truthfully that Etz Hayyim, as our Temple, has been an important means in my re-defining myself, if only weekly, as a Jew when we gather for Kabbalat Shabbat -  I thank you all for this and I especially pray that our Menorah remains a beacon. G-d bless you all.

Nikos Stavroulakis

October 10, 2013

High Holy Days at the Synagogue

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Despite a somewhat anticipated bleak outlook on tourism in Crete and Greece in general as a consequence of the economic ‘crisis’ that has affected us all, for the High Holidays we had blessings… This year we were doubly blessed by the appearance of Lior Asher along with Gabriel Negrin who lead services for the 70+ congregants who came to our Synagogue. Lior came from Tel Aviv as he has done for several years now to blow the shofar. And Gabriel came from Athens to lead the service. Immediately after the service we all gathered for the traditional fish dinner, at a local restaurant.

The following day Lior left for Tel Aviv and then, on the eve of Yom Kippour he unexpectedly  returned in order to lead the Kol NIdre and remained until after the Fast had ended when he left by car to Heraklion to catch the midnight flight back to Tel Aviv. Whether through fate or accident his presence and unobtrusive leadership for the services marked by significant and relevant silent pauses in the services fit well into our spirit.   Especially so this year, as on the eve of Neilah Mr Stavroulakis had a fall in the street that left several (initially ignored) ribs broken.  Lior is the person who once said to me that what he loved about our synagogue is the fact that his prayers soured up to heaven out of it.  All of the High Holidays were well attended with the Synagogue filled to almost capacity for both.

SUKKOT – The supports for the Sukkah were brought into the courtyard as usual after Yom Kippour, and  Alex and Besnik put it up. The blessings over the Sukkah were by read by Roger Yayom and with the help of Ahouvah Amar and some members of the Havurah, lavish quantities of food were prepared for a buffet dinner after.  This year, for the first in several the thatched roof of palm branches had to be re-placed by some acquired from neighbor’s palms as ours sadly died this year. Lulav and Etrogim were provided by the Athens Jewish Community.  By this time Mr Stavroulakis was in the clinic from which he emerged on Simhat Torah.

We wish all our friends every blessing for this coming year – which at this juncture appears to anticipate no relief. YOUR HELP will be most deeply appreciated during it.

N Stavroulakis

August 20, 2013

Rosh Hashanah Services

Under: Events, News by admin at 16:24

Σας προσκαλούμε να γιορτάσετε μαζί μας τo



Τετάρτη, 4 Σεπτεμβρίου,

οι προσευχές θα ξεκινήσουν στης 19:00 και θ’ ακολουθήσει

γεύμα στο εστιατόριο Έλα (Οδός Κονδυλάκη).

Και πρωί Πέμπτη, 5 Σεπτεμβρίου στης 9:00


Για την κράτηση θέσεων παρακαλούμε επικοινωνήστε μαζί μας έως

την 1 Σεπτεμβρίου. Το γεύμα θα είναι €20 ανά άτομο.


We invite you to join us for the celebration of Rosh Hashanah,

on Wednesday, September 4th.

Services will be held at the Synagogue at 19:00, followed by a

meal at Ela Restaurant (Kondylaki St.).

Morning Services will be at 9:00, on Thursday.


Anyone interested should RSVP by September 1st.

The cost for the meal will be €20 per person.

Yom Kippur Kol Nidre will be celebrated on Friday,

September 13th at 19:00

Fast ends  Saturday, September 14th at 20:12.

Snacks will be served at the Synagogue for breaking the fast.

a or tel: 28210-86286

June 6, 2013

Haskabah 2013

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Since the rededication of the Synagogue in 2000 we have annually had a commemoration of the destruction of our Jewish community in 1944.

We either highlight the actual arrest of the community on May 28th 1944 or 10th June when the freight boat Tannais that was carrying them to Athens was torpedoed and sank within minutes.  Our service is quite simple and perhaps lacks some of the dramatic speeches that are excited by such events.

This year the service began after Arvith prayers for which we had prepared prayer books when over 80 gathered in the Synagogue that had been prepared in advance with votive candles, a gardenia in its pot, and tapers for lighting the candles.

At the end of Arvith prayers the prayer for Martyrs was read in unison after which the poem ‘Each of Us Has a Name by Zelda Mishkowsky was recited and then together we read out the names of the Community of 1944.  The only dramatic moments were when participants took 267 candles, lit them and then placed them around the synagogue or distributed them on parapets, the fountain, stairs and walkways of the north or south courtyards.

Rusks, wine and raki were served at the end of the service.

May 20, 2013

Lecture at Munich Univeristy

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Through invitation by the Chair of Judaic Studies at the University of Munich, Prof. Michael Brenner, our director Nikos Stavroulakis was invited to speak on the Renovation of an Abandoned Synagogue.  Funds for this were provided by the Kiessling Foundation of Munich and the lecture was held in the University on the 16th May of this year.

The evening was relaxed and informal and accompanied by a CD that had been put together by our Administrative Secretary Alex Phountoulakis and Stavroulakis.  Anja Zuckmantel, our librarian and archivist, was an important adjunct and assisted the director.

In attendance were students from the University as well as a Turkologist who is interested in working with us and a number of scholars – notably Ilona Steinman who is I working on Romaniot siddurim and has done published research on a quite unique illustrated Pirke Avot done in Crete in the 16th century that is now in the Library of the Jewish Museum in Jerusalem.

As Munich has a quite large Cretan Community we were especially honoured by the presence of the Honourable Sophia Grammata, the Consul General of Greece, and Fr. Apostolos Malamousis who represented the Greek Community of Munich as well as Mr. Manolis Kouioumdouzis, the President of the Cretan Association of Munich that also provided an excellent buffet and Cretan wine.

As an overview of the years from 1995 until today the presentation stressed the condition of Etz Hayyim Synagogue as it lay abandoned and in a state of near collapse from 1944/1995 until today when it has a vibrant and lively community of Jews, Christians and Muslims who have found shelter within its walls and a sharing of common values.

February 8, 2013

Tu B’Shevat at Etz Hayyim

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Tu Beshevet was made more memorable as central to the Seder we also planted a quince tree in the front garden of the Synagogue.  Unfortunately our date palm that was planted in 1999, died from a strange attack of beetles allegedly  from Egypt that has swept through Hania.  Before the Seder Stavroulakis gave a reading about seeing things from upside down! and how it changes our perspective.

We hope next year to be able to use the Seder that Gabriel Negrin has brought out in Hebrew and Greek.  This is long overdue.

December 14, 2012

A series of lectures on the evolution of Ottoman mosque architecture.

Under: Events, News by admin at 09:58


A series of lectures on the evolution of Ottoman mosque architecture -

Many of you will have visited Istanbul or even Edirne where Ottoman architecture reached its full development in the mid 16th century through the collaboration of a great donor (Sultan Suleiman) and the architectural genius, Sinan Pasha.  Architecture has on many occasions in history been the lasting expression of success of a civilization in drawing to itself the tangled threads of its origins and creating a new form from older elements that had expressed similar but at the same time quite dissimilar achievements and even world view.  Fortunately the time has passed since Hagia Sophia has been considered to have been copied over and over by the Ottomans and this course of lectures will be devoted to seeing the manner in which older forms and achievements – reaching back into Greco-Roman and Christian times – reached a new ideological expression in the fusion of the Antique tradition with Islam and eventually with the Ottoman Turks.

We will begin by a study of the great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus and the Aqsa Mosque of Jerusalem and the manner in which Greco-Roman-Christian achievements were give a new form through Islam in the 7th century.  Almost all of the mosques built during the period of High Islamic Civilization (8th through 13th centuries) are variations on these mosques. The lectures will trace the history of this through the three capitols of the growing Ottoman Empire, Bursa, Edirne and finally Istanbul where Hagia Sophia stood and expressed ideas and a theology that was to a degree antithetical to that of the Ottomans. How its architectural components were re-invented and even discovered through the genius of Sinan is one of the neglected periods of history.

The lectures will be accompanied by visual aids in the form of CD projector photographs as well as hand-outs.  At the end of the course there will be a special series of lectures on applied arts in the form of tile and metal work.

N. Stavroulakis did his initial graduate work under Prof. Oleg Grabar who was a pioneer in the study of Islamic Architecture and Applied Arts.  His initial doctoral research was done at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem under Prof. Michael Avi Yonah and later under Prof. Bezalel Narkis. He lectured in Ottoman and Byzantine Fine Art at the University of Tel Aviv and later at the College Year in Athens.  He was active in leading tours to Istanbul, Edirne and Bursa.

November 14, 2012

Happy Chanukah

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We would like to wish everyone a Happy Chanukah


“What gain is there in my blood?”

Psalm 30

Artwork: Nikos Stavroulakis

November 6, 2012

Wedding of Joseph and Ariana Tepperman

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The multiple ethnic influences on Jewish identity have been evident here at Etz Hayyim in the character of various weddings that have been celebrated here.  We have had Orthodox, Reform, Liberal and Conservative weddings to date…and in most cases dancing and singing seem to be the expression of community joy over what is essentially for Jews, a family and social event rather than defined precisely by Torah.  How the bride is conducted to the Synagogue is a main event and we have had serpentine parades through the convoluted streets of the Old City with banners and singing as well as Cretan, Russian, Moroccan and Israeli dancing in the street in front of the Synagogue and even the arrival of the bride on a horse drawn carriage!

This year we had the quite festive wedding of Joseph and Ariana Tepperman from Los Angeles along with some 40 family and friends who were brought in tow.  Things began quite sedately with the hangings for the Chuppah support. The mother of the bride, Donicé Kaufman had written well beforehand for its measurements and so had brought with her a quite elaborate silk hand painted hanging for the backing. Plans were then drawn up for champagne and hors d’oeuvres party in the courtyard of the Synagogue.  We also chose seven members of the wedding party to read out the Seven Blessings as well as the choice of a restaurant to hold the banquet in.

Mention had not been made of the presence of the two brothers of the bride who had with them a further three members of their jazz combo. Nor did we know that they were professionals and toured the States and Europe.  Thus it was quite a surprise when our part of the Old City was snapped to awareness during the still quiet sleepy afternoon hours with trumpets, tuba, bass and other wind instruments with quite wild music that accompanied the bride and groom along the harbour front, down the narrow streets eventually arriving at the Synagogue by which time many Haniotes had joined the wedding party.  The breaking of the glass by the groom was a signal for the orchestra to break out into quite wonderful music in the Synagogue and dancing began which even involved chairs in which bride and groom as well as their parents were lifted into the air and danced about.  By this time music and the sounds of general merriment had attracted a good number of Haniotes from the neighbourhood and elsewhere as well as the local TV news crew, which showed up to filmed much of it.  The Tepperman wedding is going to be well remembered by all of us here.


Photos courtesy of Aggeliki Psaraki

October 18, 2012

Talk by Proffessor Michael Brenner

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Lecture by Prof. Dr. Michael Brenner

“Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and the German-Jewish Renaissance”

On October first we were fortunate enough to host an evening with Prof. Michael Brenner who spoke to us about the German-Jewish Renaissance, a revival of Jewish life at the beginning of the 20th century, when a young generation of German Jews approached Jewish tradition and culture with new interest. The institution most commonly associated with this movement is the Lehrhaus (house of learning) in Frankfurt, where renowned scholars like Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Siegfried Kracauer, Erich Fromm, Gershom Scholem, Shmuel J. Agnon, Leo Strauss and many others taught. Prof. Brenner focused on the role of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, whose work at the Lehrhaus and collaboration in an innovative translation of the Hebrew Bible into German is considered a hallmark of the German-Jewish Renaissance.

Michael Brenner is Professor of Jewish History and Culture at the University of Munich and an internationally renowned scholar of general Jewish History and German-Jewish History in particular. He has also taught at Indiana University and Brandeis University and was visiting professor at the universities of Stanford, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Budapest, Haifa, Paris, and Lucerne.

He is the author of numerous books on Jewish History, e.g. A Short History of The Jews (Princeton UP, 2010; also available at the Etz Hayyim Synagogue’s library), and The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in Weimar Germany (1996).


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