After more then a year in preparation over 50 members of the (geographically) quite extended Shaltiel (Schealtiel) family gathered in Heraklion and then made their way to Hania for their . The reason for choosing Crete – and Hania where there is the sole remaining Jewish monument on the island, was dictated through the efforts of a scion of the Shalitel-Hen family who are descended from Solomon Graziani who left Spain after the great series of pogroms in 1391 CE. Jewish history in Crete is quite complicated – especially after 1204 when the Venetians obtained the Island and held it until 1669. The Jews of Crete prior to the Venetian occupation were ‘Romaniot’ – which is a general term that is applied to Greek speaking Jews whose roots go back far into the period of Hellenistic Judaism. The identity of Romaniot Jews is less defined than that of the Sepharadim (Jews from Spain or Portugal) who share an Iberian origin, languages (either Spanish or Portuguese) and cultural accretions that are quite characteristic.) Language (Greek) and in areas traditions that were determined by geography, economic proximity to urban centres of activity and of great antiquity did not create for Greek Jews a homogenous identity. Crete especially due to its isolation in the Mediterranean appears to have had a Jewish community that was well adjusted and maintained traditions that were quite unique regarding marriage, kashrut and even rabbinical ordination. Not long after the Venetian takeover of the Island there was an influx of Jews from Venice – some Italian others Ashkenazic and still others Sepharad. There appears to have been a not too cordial response on the part of Cretan Jews to the newcomers. This was to become especially so in all Ottoman territories after 1492 when the mass exodus of Jews from Spain took place and the Sepharadim were given special privileges as they had been invited to enter the Ottoman Empire as opposed to Romaniots who to a degree represented the conquered remnants of the Byzantine Empire.
There were moments when open confrontation took place as did it in the mid-sixteenth century when one of the Shaltiels resident in Candia (modern Heraklion), who overtly claimed royal Davidic descent (hence Shaltiel-Hen). Not long after his family had donated a good sum of money to the renovation of the ‘Tall-Synagogue’ of the city, he demanded that his family coat of arms be placed above the Ehal along with a list of all family members and the response of the Romaniot rabbis of the city was immediate – that it was forbidden as it implied idol worship as one would be bowing to it when doing so to the Ehal. A quite serious controversy erupted and recourse was made to such noted rabbis as David ibn Zimra in Cairo (One of the Sephrei Torah in Etz Hayyim Synagogue is from the David ibn Zimra Synagogue in Cairo), Joseph Caro in Salonika and others. In the end the escutcheon was given a place over the entrance to the synagogue but not in the interior, where it remained until 1941 when the synagogue was destroyed during the Nazi strafing of the city. Bizarrely all that remained of the structure was the entrance with the escutcheon in situ above it. Several years ago the director of Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania located and identified the escutcheon in the storerooms of the Archaeological Museum of Heraklio and subsequently four copies were cast in marble dust – one of which is in the back garden of, but not in, the Synagogue in Hania.
A special gift was given to the Synagogue in Hania of a facsimile copy of the Shaltiel Haggadah that dates from the 13th cent..