The history of Jews on Crete and elsewhere in Greece dates back to the 4thcentury BCE when Jews from Palestine and Alexandria established communities in Greece in Thessaloniki, Delos, Rhodes, Corfu, Ioannina and Crete. Thus, they constitute one of the oldest diaspora communities in the eastern Mediterranean. The Hellenistic context of the community’s origin was preserved in the Greek-speaking Romaniote tradition even though Crete had been drawn into various orbits of political, economic and cultural influence depending on the dominant powers in the eastern Mediterranean throughout the centuries.
The history of Cretan Jews can be traced in ancient inscriptions, medieval manuscripts and other written and archaeological sources, as well as the only remaining testament to their presence: Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania.
In antiquity, Jews lived in a number of locations around the island. In the Middle Ages, Heraklion (or Candia as it was then known) became the centre of Jewish life on Crete until the 19th century when Hania became that centre. While they never constituted a particularly sizable community, Cretan Jews produced some famous scholars and rabbis, the last in this line being Chief Rabbi Abraham Evlagon.
More than 2,000 years of Cretan Jewish history came to an abrupt end during the Holocaust; it has since been revived and is being continued today at Etz Hayyim Synagogue.
Photo 1: © The Jewish Museum of Greece