(photo credit: Courtesy)
Members of the Jewish community of Corfu gathered at the local synagogue on
Wednesday around a pile of ashen prayer books set on fire by vandals the day
before and wept.
“It’s very difficult for us,” said Rabbi Shlomo Naftali,
an Israeli rabbi who was flown over to Greece to conduct Passover ceremonies.
“We stood around the books and cried. Now we’ll have to bury them.”
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Tuesday morning arsonists broke into the island’s only Jewish place of worship,
piled prayer books on the bima and torched the ancient texts,
some of which were hundreds of years old.
“They came at 3 a.m., put all
the books together and burned them,” said Vino Shoshi, a former president of the
community. ”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.”
Most members of the Jewish community of Corfu, whose
history dates back to antiquity, were murdered by the Nazis during the
Nowadays there are fewer than 100 Jews left on the Greek
island. Their sacred books, however, survived the war thanks to gentiles
entrusted with their safekeeping.
“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 Greek government
strongly condemned the attack in a press release on Wednesday vowing to stamp
out anti-Semitism in the Mediterranean nation.
“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,” Giorgos Petalotis, a spokesman for the Greek
government, said. “I’ve said before and I say once again, under this unfortunate
circumstance, that bigotry and anti-Semitism are concepts incompatible with
Greek culture and alien to the mentality of the Greek people.
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.”
Meanwhile, local police have started an
investigation into the incident. Jewish officials said that while no suspects
had yet been apprehended they had faith in the authorities.
fear here,” Shoshi said. “There never has been any fear and there never
We are well-established in Corfu and nobody will make us
Greek Jews living in the US reacted with “disgust and anger” to
news of the desecration in Corfu.
Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, president
of the Association of Friends of Greek Jewry and director of a museum at Kehila
Kedosha Janina in New York, said she deplored the attack but believed
authorities were doing all they could to battle hate crimes against
“Many would probably use this as another example of continuing
anti-Semitism in Greece,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Having a very close
relationship with many Jewish communities in Greece and with representatives of
the Greek government here in the United States, I sincerely believe that the
present government is trying to deal with anti-Semitism in Greece“.
instance of local pride in Corfu’s Jewish heritage, Haddad Ikonomopoulos cited a
series of events planned to take place on May 8 honoring Corfu-born Jewish
writer Albert Cohen at the initiative of a local Greek-Christian
She added that the Greek-Jewish community in the US would
immediately start a campaign to raise money to replace the destroyed prayer
books and repair damage caused to the synagogue.
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