Another notable event in the life of the Jewish community in Hania in the 19th century was the renovation of Beth Shalom Synagogue, located on Kondylaki Street near Etz Hayyim. Beth Shalom had been built during the Venetian period and was in use by 1434, if not before. There are no records of Beth Shalom until the late 19th century, when the community decided to have it renovated, as it had fallen into a state of extreme disrepair. Beth Shalom was rededicated with a service on 4 May 1880. The renovation entailed a very great expense and was carried out under the direction of Italian architect Nicolo Mancuso. At the same time, Mancuso restored the nearby Catholic church, which on that occasion was also substantially enlarged. The land for this extension was the garden of Abraham Cohen’s house. Cohen donated it to the church authorities in 1877 and moved with his family to a newly constructed villa in another part of Hania. Their house in the Jewish Quarter, directly opposite Beth Shalom Synagogue, was then used to accommodate Rabbi Evlagon and his family.
It was also in Beth Shalom Synagogue that Chief Rabbi Evlagon received King Constantine of Greece, who visited Hania on the occasion of the union of Crete with Greece in 1913 and, according to custom, attended religious services not only in the Orthodox Cathedral but also in the main mosque and in the synagogue. A photograph shows Chief Rabbi Evlagon and Rabbi Osmos viewing the canopy prepared for the king on that occasion.
The Jewish cemetery of Hania, dating back to the Middle Ages, was located outside the city walls to the west. At the end of the 19th century it showed the signs of decades of insurrections and social unrest. Its tombstones had been desecrated, surrounding walls had been destroyed, and sand, blown in from the nearby seashore, covered the graves. In 1900, walls around the cemetery were rebuilt with financial aid from the Chief Rabbi of France, Rabbi Tsadok Hacohen.
Not much is known about the daily life of the Jewish community during this period. Despite incidents of sporadic violence, Chief Rabbi Evlagon, during a visit to London, spoke of his community’s excellent relations with their Christian and Muslim neighbours.
A quite telling description of the status of local Jews within the society of Hania is also provided by Haniote physician George Vardakis in his memoir: “I can say with certainty that my parents spoke with great affection and respect, not only for our neighbours, but for all Jews. I remember very clearly the remark my father had made: ‘They have fought as Greeks on the front, they work in very respectable positions, and they are Greeks like us.’ These words left such a strong impression that I have not forgotten them to this day.”
Photos 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8: © The Jewish Museum of Greece
Source: public domain