The Ronald Lauder Garden, to the south of the synagogue, contains four graves of former rabbis of the Hania community which are mentioned by Crete’s last Chief Rabbi, Abraham Evlagon, in his memoir. Here, he gives the precise names and dates of Rabbi Joseph Ben Shalom (d. 1821) and his brother, Rabbi Baruh Ben Shalom (d. 1841). There is also a grave of Rabbi Avraham Z. Habib of Gallipoli, who died in 1858, and a fourth grave of Rabbi Hillel Eskenazi, a noted mystic and kabbalist, who died in 1710. Evlagon also notes that this last burial was recorded only in tradition and that its original location had been lost. In the course of removing rubble and the paving stones of the ground floor of the women’s section during the synagogue’s reconstruction, a tomb was brought to light under the stone stairs that had been incorporated into the support wall. This is undoubtedly the tomb of Rabbi Hillel which was not visible when Evlagon wrote his memoir in 1921.
The close association of the tombs of the Shalom brothers is explained by Evlagon. Before Rabbi Baruh Shalom had died, he requested that he be buried by the side of his brother. Apparently Rabbi Joseph Ben Shalom was buried 20 years earlier within the walls of Hania, contrary to Jewish religious law, after what Evlagon describes as a “scandalous affair” that forced the Jews to barricade themselves behind the gates of the Jewish quarter for several days. This development was probably due to considerable social unrest at the beginning of the Greek Revolution in 1821 on the Greek mainland.
The graves are enclosed by a delineation (Eruv) separating the small burial site from the synagogue because Jewish law dictates that graves must not be positioned in close proximity to the sanctuary and Mikveh.
Photo 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12: © Anastasios Skikos