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.
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.
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.
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.
Amato. I Remember Rhodes,
Sefer-Hermon Press, 1996.
Copyright © 2002 Edward Victor