During the 19th century, Crete was still part of the Ottoman Empire, but the rise of nationalism and the outbreak of the Greek Revolution on the mainland had repercussions that were also felt on Crete. There were heightened tensions between the Cretan Muslim and Christian populations, with the latter repeatedly rising up against Ottoman authority, and with excessive violence from both sides. From the middle of the century, various attempts were made to reform the administration of the island, which brought new political affiliations and institutions, in which Cretan Jews were also represented.

The small Jewish population was caught up between the contending majority groups and – much like the Cretan Muslims – did not fit the increasingly exclusive definition of Greek nationalism. As a result of political and economic pressure, many Jews left the island during the 19th century and by 1881 their number decreased to less than 700.

Photo 1: © The Jewish Museum of Greece

Chief Rabbi Abraham Evlagon and Rabbi Elias Osmos at Beth Shalom Synagogue, Hania, 1913

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