The interior of Etz Hayyim is laid out according to the tradition of Romaniote Jewish communities in Greece. Several examples have survived, notably in Ioannina, Halkis and Corfu and what remains of the interior furnishings of the synagogue of Patras. This layout is quite different from that of the Sephardi synagogues in Greece and can also be found in Venice, elsewhere in Italy, and occasionally in Turkey and North Africa.
In keeping with all synagogues the Ehal (Torah Shrine) is located on the east wall, but as is typical of Romaniote synagogues, the Bima (elevated platform for reading the Torah) is located axially opposite to it, against the west wall.
The seating arrangement follows this polar-axial arrangement so that the benches are set along the south and north walls. It is a highly practical solution to the problem of processions where the congregation must follow the Torah as it is being brought from the Ehal to the Bima and back again, or even the interior circuits that are performed at certain festivals, such as Sukkot. From the place where one is sitting or standing one can easily face east or west or reach out to touch the Torah.
Photo 1: © Anastasios Skikos
Photo 2: © Etz Hayyim Synagogue