Since the re-dedication of the synagogue in 2000 we have observed two annual Jewish holidays, Passover and Sukkot in keeping with the injunction that we share with our non-Jewish neighbours the essential message of these festivals as remembrances of how the Jewish people were redeemed from slavery and evolved into a nation as such.
Lacking kosher facilities we were faced with challenges from the beginning though initially we faced them somewhat clumsily but with determination. The first two Seders were held in the synagogue proper and we obtained good copies of the traditional haggadah or narration of the events and compilations of prayers found in the excellent Passover Haggadah according to the Sephardi tradition done by R. Marc Angel. There were difficulties in using this text, however, as most of the participants were not Jews and hence the relevance of much contained in the traditional text was either irrelevant or obscure. It also became clear that our concern for kashrut by ordering lamb from the shohet or ritual slaughter in Larissa, having it frozen and then sent to us overnight by boat plus the need to make kosher part of a kitchen that was used for cooking…not to mention special pots and roasting pans, had imposed on us a concern for form as opposed to content. Much in the Haggadah seemed to need hyper-explanation to our non-Jewish guests though we kept to our traditional Sephardi form as much as we could. We even went so far as to have our dedicated volunteers clean the synagogue and it’s kitchen and on the vigil of the festival we gathered together to sweep up fragments of hametz with a ‘broom’ made up of remaining palm fronds from the lulav used during Sukkoth that were then burnt before the main gate. For many of us it was obvious that we had diverted the intent of the festivals into ethnographic pursuits.
In the course of several years we came to terms with many of the challenges as faced annually. The traditional lamb eaten by Greek Jews was replaced by a vegetarian though fish focused main meal. Over several years trial and success we created our own Haggadah that provides ample opportunity for apt additions and participation.
This year we followed what seems to be an especially relevant route as dictated by circumstances. We had some 65 participants many with families from the US, Greece, Israel, France, the UK and Denmark. Initially we gathered in the synagogue and Stavroulakis gave a short homily and then we said minhah or afternoon prayerš. We then went about 100 meters or so to the Ela Restaurant where we read the Haggadah and sang together (No one succeeded in finding the Afikomen!).
NB copies of our illustrated Hania Haggadah can be obtained from the synagogue offices.