Abandoned synagogues get new life in Greece

The Jewish heritage sites in Greece once abandoned or demolished or serving other uses, are now slated for reconstruction and reuse as synagogues, nearly 80 years after the Holocaust.

During the Holocaust, 87% of the Jewish community in Greece perished. The destruction took a heavy toll in Jewish heritage as well. Synagogues, libraries, community buildings, Jewish schools, and Jewish clubs were either demolished or taken over by other organizations.

In 2014, the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, decided to renovate its two remaining synagogues – Monastirioton (built in 1926) and Yad Lezikaron (built in 1984) and in 2017, in Trikala, a city in Central Greece, dampness issues from rising underground waters due to Climate Change, required immediate solutions to protect the historic synagogue Yavanim built in the 19th century.

At the same time, a project was launched in 2019 to preserve and protect the mosaic floor that belonged to an ancient synagogue of the 4th century CE still standing in the courtyard of the Archaeological Museum of Aegina.

More recently, on March 2022, the mayor of the northern greek city of Komotini declared in public  that he is determined to “rebuild the demolished historic synagogue Beth El in Komotini.”

The mayor is currently in the process of requesting the necessary approvals, especially from the Greek Archaeological Service, as the synagogue once stood adjacent to the Byzantine walls, with the Jewish quarter located inside the walls.

Finally, in the eastern island of Kos, northwest of Rhodes, a synagogue was built circa 1936 during Italian rule, after the older one was destroyed in the earthquake of April 1933.

Following the deportation of the Jewish Community in 1944, the synagogue stood abandoned and later purchased by the municipality to serve as a cultural center for the island.

Up until now, the closest functioning synagogue was the 16th century Shalom synagogue in nearby Rhodes in the Jewish quarter of the old city, which attracted many Israeli and Jewish visitors. Lately, as more Israeli tourists choose Kos as their vacation destination, a need for a functioning synagogue was raised.

The municipality, in collaboration with the Central Board of Jewish Communities of Greece, is weighing the possibility of adapting the interior of the synagogue also to the needs of a Jewish prayer hall, with all the necessary furnishings, seating and decoration.

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