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Wednesday, 01 July 2009 08:57

THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF RHODES

 

    The settlement of Jews in Rhodes was mentioned for the first time in the Book of Macabees in the 2nd century B.C.

    Proof of the Jewish presence in Rhodes has remained immutable for many centuries. The narrow, arched, paved medieval alleys of the "Juderia" (Jewish) quarter still bear Jewish symbols. The historian, Josephus also refers to the Jews in the 1st century A.D. Later historic texts in the 12th century, confirm their presence, when in 1116, the traveller Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, Spain, had visited the island and had written in his itinerary that he found 400 to 500 Jews living there. This number increased significantly when, in 1280 more Jews from Aragon joined them. An Italian rabbi, a traveller, who visited Rhodes in 1467, quoted in his letter still preserved in Florence: "I have never encountered a Jewish community in which everyone, from the eldest to the youngest, is so intelligent… they have long hair and look like princes. The Knights of Hospitalers of Rhodes visit the Jewish homes regularly in order to admire the beautiful embroideries".

    The Jews of Rhodes were also known to have been ardent defenders of the city against the Turks in 1480. After the Turkish attack against the island, only 22 Jewish families survived. In spite of their fear of Turkish attacks, they were able to stand strong and continue their lives. In the 16th century A.D. many Jews were expelled from Rhodes after a resolution passed by the Council of the Knights. A little later new Jewish families arrived from Thessaloniki, and as a result, Rhodes became a significant Sephardic center.

    Thanks to the establishment of many synagogues and Rabbinical Schools during the four centuries that followed, as well as the flourishing commerce, the Jewish Community gained a special position. Wealthy textile and silk merchants co-existed with gunsmiths, craftsmen, bookbinders and weavers. They all lived in Rhodes which was a center of international commerce that was also involved in money traffic, slave trade and piracy.

    As of 1888 the educational program of Alliance Israelite Universelle School began to operate thanks to the donations of Edmond Rothchild. In 1901 the boys' school began to operate and in 1902 the girls' school began to operate. The school building was demolished in the bombings in 1943.

    The Jews of Rhodes lived in two quarters, had two synagogues and the travellers who visited the island talked about their piousness and their concern with theological issues.

    In 1941 2,000 Jews lived in Rhodes. They had four synagogues. "Shalom" Synagogue, on the junction between Dosiadou and Simiou Streets, as well as the ancient Jewish cemetery, survived World War II. "Shalom" synagogue was originally built in the 12th century, was destroyed during the war between the Turks and the Knights Templars and was rebuilt in the 15th century.

    In 1944 the Jews of Rhodes and Kos were arrested by the Nazis. They were sent to Piraeus and then deported to Auschwitz. During the Holocaust almost all Jews of Rhodes perished. Only 150 of them survived. Today the Community is comprised of about 40 people.

    On June 2002, a Holocaust Monument was unveiled in the Jewish Martyrs Square, in the old town of Rhodes, in memory of the Jews of the island who perished during the Holocaust.

    ** It is worthwhile visiting the website
www.RhodesJewishMuseum.org which was created by the "Rhodes Jewish Historical Foundation" supervised by Jews whose origin is in Rhodes and now live abroad.



    

Interior of Shalom Synagogue in Rhodes




    

Old photo from the Jewish quarter in Rhodes




    

Grave in the Jewish cemetery of Rhodes




    

View of the "Evraion Martyron"
(Jewish Martyrs) Square in Rhodes


 

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