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Welcome to Etz Hayyim Synagogue, Hania

 

Until 1999 Etz Hayyim was a desecrated house of prayer that remained the sole Jewish monument on the Island of Crete after the destruction of our Jewish community in 1944. Essentially it stood as a monument to the success of the Nazis in obliterating 2,300 years of Jewish life on the island of Crete.  From 1996 until the year of its re-dedication in 1999 the structure was painstakingly restored. The philosophy that directed this work is summed up in the Hebrew ‘Am Israel Hayy’ – ‘The people of Israel live’.  In 1996, the Synagogue was mentioned on the World Monument Fund’s list of most endangered sites, but today it stands as a vibrant statement of Jewish life, vitality and values.

We invite you to explore our rich history as well as our current activities and events.

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ETZ HAYYIM SYNAGOGUE

A place of Prayer, Recollection and Reconciliation

Before rapid and convenient means of communication Crete enjoyed its isolation as an island though at the same time was subject to its location as a crossroad in the eastern Mediterranean.  Not long after the death of Alexander the Great the interaction of Hellenic culture with the great oriental civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia saw the creation of Hellenism.  Jews very early began to settle in some of the great newly founded cities such as Alexandria and Antioch and It is most likely that the earliest Jewish communities in Crete were attracted by the globalism of Hellenism and very rapidly adopted the Greek language and to a degree culture.

These Hellenistic Jews were the beginnings  of Jewish communities   in Crete that endured for over 2000 years. Inevitably these communities were to benefit from and suffer under the geographic advantages of the island as being a crossroad but also its isolation.  Under Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman Turkish domination Jewish communities developed a quite distinct character as remnants of antiquity but also absorbed to a degree the rich Sephardic identity widely dispersed throughout the eastern Mediterranean after the 15th century.

The last occupiers of Crete were the Germans who, in 1941 conquered the island and their Nazi  focused ideology resulted in the destruction of the last Cretan Jewish Community of Hania in 1944.  At the termination of the IInd World War over five synagogues had been  destroyed as well as cemeteries and schools and only the desecrated and ignored Etz Hayyim Synagogue was left as a witness to Jewish life in Crete.  In 1995 The World Monuments Fund initiated a work of renovation and it was re-dedicated in 2000 as place of prayer, recollection and reconciliation.

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The Synagogue

 

Etz Hayyim Synagogue is the only surviving Jewish monument on the island of Crete. The building goes back to the Venetian period and became a Synagogue with distinctly Romaniote architectural features in the 17th century. Its Mikveh is one of Greece’s oldest functioning ones. Quite unusually there are several tombs in the South courtyard.

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The Jews of Crete

 

For some 2,300 years Jews lived in Crete and shared intimately in its history and its rich and complex culture throughout the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Andalusian Arab, Venetian and Ottoman periods until the destruction of the Cretan Jewish community during World War II.

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All artwork, unless otherwise indicated is by Nikos Stavroulakis (N.S.).