The synagogue is active and holds weekly Friday Kabbalat Shabbat services and Shabbat Kiddush; most other holidays are also celebrated.

We begin the year with a service on Erev Rosh Hashanah (New Year’s Eve) followed by a communal meal in accordance with Greek-Jewish customs. Pomegranates and apples soaked in honey are first served, followed by fish as the main course.

For Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), we hold Kol Nidre and a morning service. In the late afternoon we read the traditional Cretan text of the Book of Jonah. For Neilah, we assemble again for the traditional Sephardi service. After the blowing of the Shofar, the breaking of the fast is marked with a small meal in the courtyard.

In keeping with admonitions for the festival of Sukkot, we start building the Sukkah (temporary hut) in the main courtyard of the Synagogue on the day after Yom Kippur. On the eve of the holiday, we bless the Sukkah and usually have a banquet meal. Lulav and etrog are prominently displayed. The Sukkah is open to visitors for the duration of the festival.

We also celebrate Hanukkah with the lighting of the Hanukiah and Purim with the recitation of the Megillath Esther. Tu B’Shvat we celebrate with a great bowl of Assoureh as the main dish, made from marinated fruits, nuts, beans, wheat kernels, and liberally sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.

At Pesach we are admonished to invite our non-Jewish neighbours to eat with us and to hear the story of freedom from slavery – of every sort. The traditional search for hametz (leavened food) is carried out in the afternoon and the desiccated lulav that has been kept from Sukkot is used as a broom to gather the hametz. The lulav is then burnt along with the symbolic hametz in front of the gate of the synagogue. Arvit prayers are said in the synagogue and then we assemble in a nearby restaurant for the Seder, where we share a community dinner with many guests, both local and international, and recite our own Etz Hayyim Haggadah.

During weddings at Etz Hayyim, seven blessings are recited over the bride and groom, in keeping with the Romaniote tradition. This is usually performed by seven close friends under the huppah (canopy). At Etz Hayyim, we have revived a very ancient Judaeo-Greek custom of having the bride and groom wear crowns made of flowers.

Photos 1, 2: © Nikos Stavroulakis

Photo 3: © Sandra Barty & Ken Ross

Photos 4, 5: © Etz Hayyim Synagogue

Title page of Etz Hayyim Pessah Haggadah

Illustration from Etz Hayyim Pessah Haggadah

Nikos Stavroulakis with Rabbi Gabriel Negrin from Athens

Sukkah at Etz Hayyim

Rosh Hashanah service at Etz Hayyim

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