Rhodes, Greece



    The Jews of Rhodes date their ancestry back to Genesis, quoting the mention of the island in the Book of Genesis! There was definitely a Jewish settlement on the island in antiquity and St. Paul visited the island, attesting to a Jewish settlement in the first century. The island was taken over by the crusader Knights of St. John, who built the walls of the fortified city, which still stand. It was within these fortified walls that the Jews would live for centuries. As with other communities throughout the Mediterranean, these Jews were Romaniote. With the takeover of the island by the Ottoman Turks, in 1522, Sephardim were brought to Rhodes and the community would become a traditional Sephardic one, speaking Judeo-Espanyol.

    The island became part of Italy after WWI and with Mussolini’s Racial Laws in the 1930’s would begin to suffer Fascist persecutions. With the fall of Mussolini in 1943, the island was taken over by the Germans. There were over 1700 Jews still living there in July of 1944, when the community was rounded up and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only 151 would survive. Of the four synagogues still in existence in 1940, only Kahal Shalom would survive the intense bombing on the island.   Today only 35 Jews live on Rhodes. Kahal Shalom, the oldest functioning synagogue still stands, a physical testimony to the endurance of the Jews of Rhodes.

Kahal Shalom Synagogue-- Kahal Shalom was built in 1577. Typical of Ottoman synagogues, its exterior is nondescript, blending into the porous stone structures of the “Juderia”. It is only when one steps inside that you can sense the love the Jews of Rhodes lavished on their “Holy Congregation of Peace”. An unusual feature of Kahal Shalom is the twin Echals on the eastern wall, separated by the doorway into the interior courtyard. The Tevah is placed in the middle in the traditional Sephardic style and the floor is made of sheshikos (pebbles), a Rhodian decorating style. The synagogue is open for Shabbat services during the summer when tourists and Rhodeslis (Jews who descend from Rhodes) visit the island. A carekeeper is employed by the community to insure access to visitors daily during the summer months. There is a small museum containing pictures in the former women’s section. The synagogue is located on Simeou inside the walled city of Rhodes.   The synagogue was listed by the World Monument Fund as one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World and a complete restoration of the synagogue should take place in the near future.  Below is a picture of the interior of the synagogue.



Angel, Rabbi Marc. The Jews of Rhodes, Sefer-Hermon Press, 1998.

Franco, Hizkia. The Jewish Martyrs of Rhodes and Kos, Harper Collins, 1994.

Levy, Isaac. Jewish Rhodes, A Lost Culture, Judah L. Magnes Museum, Berkley 1989.

Levy, Rebecca Amato. I Remember Rhodes, Sefer-Hermon Press, 1996.

Copyright © 2002 Edward Victor