Posted to General on
|

New Torah Scroll in Greece – First Time Since WW2

Arutz Sheva

This Sunday, for the first time since World War II, a Torah Scroll will be completed and instated in a synagogue in Greece – thanks to the efforts of a dedicated family and a Toronto woman.

Ms. Miriam Leah Danessis of Toronto, formerly from Greece, has spent over five years working on behalf of the dwindling Jewish community in the Mediterranean country. She began by arranging for the Lubavitch movement to send a “shliach” (emissary) family – Rabbi Mendel and Nechama Hendel – to Athens, and later proceeded to have a Torah scroll written for and delivered to an Athens synagogue.

Marking this landmark occasion of the new Torah scroll, a joyous ceremony will be held this Sunday, at the Synagogue of Chalkida in Athens. The invitation notes that the Torah Scroll is known as the “Love of Israel and Unity of Israel” scroll.

The Torah’s final letters will be completed by a scribe from Toronto, Rabbi Abraham Kubayov, and the ceremony will feature guests from the local Jewish community and abroad, musical accompaniment for the traditional march to the synagogue, special programs for children, and more.

Rabbi Hendel told Arutz-7 about the Jewish community in Greece:
“It is a very ancient one, beginning during the Second Temple period over 2,000 years ago. Centuries later, many more Jews came to Greece following the expulsion from Spain in 1492, mainly to Saloniki. Saloniki was such a Jewish community that at one point, its port was closed on the Sabbath! Before World War II, the population was around 75,000 – but then the Nazis arrived.”

Within a three-month period in 1943, over 45,000 Jews were transported to Auschwitz; only a handful survived. A total of 60,000 to 65,000 Greek Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

“The Jews remaining here today,” Rabbi Hendel said, “are descendants of the survivors, and number about 3,000 in Athens and 2,500 in Saloniki. We’re trying to keep up the numbers; most of the people are traditional, not quite observant. We have a day school that goes up until 6th grade, with Jewish and Hebrew subjects in addition to general studies.”

The Hendels teach Jewish children and adults and run Jewish educational programs outside the framework of the school. “For instance,” Rabbi Hendel said, “one of our relatively new programs is an interactive video-conference Torah class. The most recent one was broadcast from Israel, and seen simultaneously in Warsaw, Brussels, Copenhagen, and here in Athens; people here are very enthusiastic about it.”

Rabbi Hendel said that Ms. Danessis was actually the initiator of his and his wife’s arrival in Athens. “She spoke to the people in Chabad, and it was through her efforts that we left New York and are here today,” he said. Born in Israel, he originally met Nechama in her home-country of France, from where they left to New York, and are now in Athens – with no plans to leave, despite the hardships.

“No, we don’t always have a minyan [required prayer quorum of ten men],” he said, “but many times travelers come and help out… Possibly the greatest challenge we face is giving our two children, aged 4 and 6, the education we want. They speak Greek better than I do, but in a certain way, they feel their Jewish identity much more here than they might anywhere else; they know they are different, and they are much more aware of keeping Shabbat and Kashrut [Jewish dietary laws].”

What does he try to teach the Jews of Athens?
“We try to strengthen Jewish identity in general, have them realize what it means to be Jewish, and try to make it relevant by having people get involved by adding hours of Torah study, observing some of the mitzvot – everyone on their own level… Every Friday night, we have some 20-30 guests, travelers and members of the community.”

The official announcement of Sunday’s Torah scroll celebration possibly best sums up the Hendels’ mission:
“The Torah is the most illustrious and exciting book in the world. Its words have inspired the greatest minds in history. The Ten Commandments are the foundation of so many civilizations on the face of the earth. At this time, when the world is searching for the priceless blessing of peace, we, as Jews, must reassert our unity [and] the dedication that has preserved us as a people through the ages… By participating in the inauguration of the new Unity Torah, the latest link in a holy and eternal chain, we are signifying in a very special way, that we are one with the Jewish people, one with tradition – one with destiny.”

One Comment

×

Comments are closed.