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PATRA Print E-mail
Friday, 12 June 2009 10:57

THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF PATRAS

    The long presence of the Jews of Patras since antiquity is recorded by historians, scholars, rabbis and Hebrew inscriptions on gravestones. It dates back to the era of Seleucus I of Syria, in 300 B.C.
    During the Roman period, the Jews, being Roman citizens, escaped persecutions for religious reasons and later, during the Byzantine period, they became especially active in commerce and arts, marking the daily life of the residents and the progress of the city.
    The Jews lived in the north-western section of the Citadel, in the areas of Vlaterou, Ayialexiotissa, and during the West European domination they lived in Aroi, later called "Tsifout Mahala", known as the "Jewish quarter". The old cemetery, today called "Jewish graves" is near the Jewish quarter. In 1880 the First Municipal cemetery was created in the area of "Zavlani" and a space from that was allotted to serve as the new Jewish cemetery.
    Jews were involved in commerce, industries, dyeing of textiles, as well as sciences, mainly medical. The lower classes were innkeepers, guards, workers, etc. It has been mentioned that during the 18th century, a Jewish family monopolised imports in the city. Their Jewish shops were on the coastal neighbourhood "Tsivdi", between the modern day central streets of Ag. Andreas and Gounari. Some of them were real estate and land owners.
    Four synagogues were mentioned from the period of West European domination in 1850 until the 17th century. Enlightened and highly educated rabbis, such as Moissis Yiossif Gabai, Meir Shemtov, Sadia Firman and others, held offices there and translated holy texts and books. In the 12th century, the Spanish rabbi Benjamin Ben Yonah who visited Patras, noted in his "Itinerary" the existence of 50 Jews who lived in big houses and that he had met with Isaac, Yakov and Samuel.
    Historians mention the presence of Jews in the neighbouring Andravida since the 13th century. Andravida was the capital of the Principality of Arcadia.
    It must be noted that in very early years Jews lived in other cities of the Peloponese, such as the neighbouring Glareda, Corinth, Koroni, Methoni, Kyparissia, Sparta and Mystras, particularly where their quarter is mentioned outside the wall, in "Exohori", which "constituted of another small Judea with a synagogue".
    In 1430, when the Venetians moved their commercial center to Nafpaktos (Lepanto), economic life in Patras was affected negatively, as many residents, including Jews, settled there.
    The Jewish population of Patras increased significantly after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Soon, however, more new immigrants arrived from Sicily and Apulia.
    In the 17th century the Community had 1,500 members, who constituted a large part of the population of the city. The terrible pest epidemic in 1745 struck the population and decimated many families. After that, 1,000 Christian, 250 Turkish and 10 Jewish families remained.
    As of 1767 Christians and Jews were rivals and during the period of 1798-99 the French consul Pukeville considered the remaining 17 Jewish families "miserable remnants of the Jewish community of the city." In 1805 Dodwell mentioned the anti-Semitic climate that prevailed and that grew even stronger with the outbreak of the Greek revolution of 1821, led to the wiping out of the Community.
    In the beginning of the 19th century the city developed and expanded rapidly. The Community was reformed in 1905 and by the end of the century more Jews from Corfu, Zante, Preveza and Arta settled in Patras.
    In 1917 a new Synagogue was built on a private site of the Community, on 34, Pandanassas Street. It functioned on the first floor of the building, next to which there was a big hall that served as a schoolroom. A lattice separated the spacious women's section from the holy Bimah.
    Aisles and the seats of the faithful were on every side of the synagogue. The holy Bimah was in the middle and the "Arc" (Aron Hakodesh) was on the eastern side, visible from every angle, according to the Sephardic tradition.
    The style of the furniture in the synagogue was Venetian and the holy Torah scrolls "sefarim" were kept in elaborate wooden cases "Tikim", one of which included a dedication dated 1913, by a Jewish woman whose name was Elhai, from Iraklio.
    The few Jews of Agrinio belonged to the Community of Patras. According to Captain Leak, in 1804 Agrinio had 40 Jewish homes. Obviously they had moved there for commercial reasons. In 1928, 161 Jews lived in Patras; in 1940, combined with the Community of Agrinio, they were a total of 265 persons.
    During the Nazi persecution, 1943-44, the Jews escaped to the surrounding villages. However, 113 people were executed in the Nazi death camps, in other words the Community lost 63% of its members.
    In 1946 the Community had 120 members and 4 prisoners returned. In the following years the Jewish population gradually decreased since the Jews were emigrating to other cities. Eventually the Communities of Patras and Agrinio faded away and were dissolved in 1991. In 1984, shortly before the synagogue was torn down, the interior was moved and placed in the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens.




   

The "Tevah" (part of the temple from where the Torah is read)
in the Synagogue of Patras before it was torn down




   

Exterior view of the Synagogue of Patras

 


 

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