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The Renovation and Revival of Etz Hayyim 1996-1999

Façade of Etz Hayyim before restoration.
Façade of Etz Hayyim before restoration. © The Jewish Museum of Greece
Commemorative Album about the Reconstruction of Etz Hayyim.

Having stood abandoned for almost 50 years following the end of the Second World War, the fortunes of Etz Hayyim were about to change as a result of the intervention by Hania resident, Nikos Stavroulakis (himself an artist, art historian and founding director of the Jewish Museum of Greece) who wanted to rebuild and revive the synagogue after surveying extensive earthquake damage caused to the building in 1995. Some months afterwards, Nikos was invited to give a lecture on Greek Jewish monuments (although he chose to speak exclusively about Etz Hayyim) at a symposium jointly sponsored by the World Monuments Fund and the Jewish Heritage Program in New York. As a result, Etz Hayyim was added to the prestigious list of the world’s “100 Most Endangered Sites” of international cultural concern compiled by the World Monuments Fund in 1996. With this recognition, Nikos sought the interest and funding to fully restore the synagogue, a process which took three years and was headed by Nikos himself under the aegis of the World Monuments Fund in cooperation with the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KISE). Funding was provided by the Rothschild, Lauder, Rosenberg, Rose and other foundations and donations from interested individuals.

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The synagogue was officially rededicated on 10th October 1999 with Rabbis Jacob Arar and Isaak Mizan of Athens as the celebrants assisted by Rabbi Yacob Dayan of Salonika. Approximately 350 people were present including members of the various Greek Jewish communities, representatives from the Orthodox and Catholic churches in Hania and local and international dignitaries such as the Hon. Constantine Mitsotakis, the former Prime Minister and President of the New Democracy Party of Greece alongside the German Ambassador to Greece. A full account of Etz Hayyim’s three- year reconstruction project and its reopening by Nikos Stavroulakis is documented in the “Commemorative Album” which is available against donation from the synagogue.