By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
The Etz-Hayyim Synagogue in the Greek city of Hania on the island of Crete nearly burned to the ground overnight Tuesday after unknown arsonists set fire to a wooden staircase in the building.
The fire was set at around 1 a.m. early Wednesday, but a neighbor who was awake at the time noticed the smoke and called authorities and the synagogue's director Dr. Nicholas Stavroulakis.
The staircase led to the second-story women's section of the main sanctuary in the small seaside complex.
The Etz-Hayyim Synagogue was restored in the late 1990s after years of neglect in the wake of the Second World War. The nearly 300 members of the Hania Jewish community were shipped out by the Nazi invaders in 1944, and died when their ship was sunk in transit by an Allied torpedo.
It serves as a place for prayer, a museum and memorial, and a library recording the long and troubled history of Crete's Jews.
The walls of the synagogue's main hall were covered in soot, but the fire did not reach the Torah scrolls or the library.
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