Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Greece: Last Month's Arson Attack on Corfu Synagogue

Greece: Arsonists Attack Corfu Synagogue
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) I have been remiss in reporting last month's arson attach on the Scuola Greca synagogue on the island of Corfu, Greece. Because of the many tourists who vacation on Corfu, the synagogue is one of the better known Jewish sites in Greece. The synagogue, built in a modest Italian baroque style is one of the oldest and most impressive still open in Greece. It dates to a time when part of the Greek Jewish population was closely linked to the economic and cultural world of the Adriatic, dominated by Venice.

You can tour the synagogue sanctuary here, thanks to synagogues360.org.

This is the second major arson incident against a Greek synagogue in the past two years. In early 2010 the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania, Crete was attacked and set fire twice causing extensive damage to artifacts, books, manuscripts and the building (ISJM has raised approximately $35,000 toward the $100,000 in restoration and replacement costs).

The April 19th attack in Corfu is similar in nature. The back door was forced and here the vandals were more methodical, piling valuable and holy scroll and books in a pile that was then set alight.

According to local police "They made a pile of books and documents in front of the rabbi's platform, or bimah, on the synagogue's first floor and set them on fire. The synagogue was closed at the time and nobody was injured. The fire was spotted by a passing police patrol." Two days after the attack to individuals were arrested.

These attacks are a reminder of continuing anti-Semitism in Greece, some of which is traditional - dating back centuries, but which is also regularly spurred by Mideast politics and even Greece's current economic woes. Jewish cemeteries in Ioannina, Salonika and elsewhere have been frequently vandalized, too, including that of Corfu in 2009. Two suspects were arrested in Corfu two days after the attack and their specific motive is still unknown. Link

Corfu, Greece. Scuola Greca Synagogue. Photos: Stavroulakis, Jewish Sites and Synagogues of Greece

From: Terrible Arson in Corfu Synagogue by Gavriel Queenann for Arutz Sheva

"Former President of the Jewish community of Corfu, Vino Shohi, described the crime, “They came at 3 a.m., put all the books together and burned them. At first I was very upset. I was ashamed that something like this happened here in Corfu, but we have received the support of all the political parties and the archbishop. They all came out in support of us and told us they were our brothers.”

Giorgos Petalotis, a spokesman for the Greek government, condemned the attack Wednesday, saying,, “The burglary that took place in the Jewish Synagogue in Corfu and the destruction of sacred liturgical books is an immoral and appalling act, which the Greek government condemns in the strongest possible manner,”

“I've said before and I say once again," Petalotis said. "Under this unfortunate circumstance, that bigotry and anti-Semitism are concepts incompatible with Greek culture and alien to the mentality of the Greek people. This act cannot overshadow the longstanding tradition of friendship and mutual respect between the two peoples. The Greek authorities have already received instructions to carry out intensive efforts to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice”.

Police on Corfu are investigating the crime. Jewish officials said they had faith the authorities will find the assailants.

“There’s no fear here,” Shoshi said. “There never has been any fear and there never will. We are well-established in Corfu and nobody will make us afraid.”

The Jewish community in Corfu is ancient with roots dating back to antiquity, but most Jews on the island were murdered by the Nazis during the holocaust. The holy books and torah scrolls survived the holocaust, however, in the hands of gentiles who safeguarded them.

“After the war they gave us all our books back,” Shoshi said. “We had books from the 15th, 16th and 17th century from Trieste, Padova and Verona. Now they are gone.”

The community of Corfu's loss is a loss for the entire Jewish people. The Corfiote Rite is distinct and its liturgy has many peculiarities that set it apart from the mainstream Ashkenazi and Sephardic liturgies most Jews are familiar with today.

Corfiote prayer books, which contain emendations from Mazal-Tob, Isaac ben Abraham, Abraham ben Gabriel ben Mordecai, and Moses ha-Kohen, are rare and unique cultural treasures. This, in addition to the destruction of the sacred Torah scrolls.

Joseph ben Abraham, the popular commentator of the Maḥzor, lived in Corfu in 1554."

See: "Greece: Synagogue targeted by arsonists"

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