Kahal Shalom Synagogue

The Kahal Shalom

The Kahal Shalom is the oldest Jewish synagogue in Greece, and the sole remaining synagogue on the Island of Rhodes used for services. There were once six synagogues and prayer halls in the Jewish Quarter (called “La Juderia”). The Kahal Shalom is located on the corner of Dossiadou and Simiou Streets and is believed to have been built in the year 1577. The full name of the building is “Kahal Kadosh Shalom” (Holy Congregation of Peace). It is used for prayer services when visitors or former residents and their families visit the Island for Friday night prayer services, High Holiday services and for special occasions.
The Jewish community of Rhodes has an historical background, dating back to ancient times. During the past five hundred years, the background of the Jewish community was influenced principally by the Jews who fled Spain, at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Large numbers of Sephardim traveled across the Mediterranean Sea to the Island of Rhodes, as well as other cities such as Salonica, Istanbul and Izmir. The descendants of the Jewish people from Spain, are known as Sephardic Jews, due to the Hebrew word for Spain being Sepharad. Since this large migration, the Jewish community on the Island of Rhodes spoke the Ladino language (also called Judeo-Spanish) which is similar to modern day Spanish. During its height in the 1930s, the Jewish community had a population of approximately 4,000 people.
The interior of the Kahal Shalom synagogue follows the traditional Sephardic style of having the “tevah” (the prayer reading table) in the center of the sanctuary, facing southeast toward Jerusalem. The floor is decorated with graceful black and white mosaic stone patterns, which is a distinctive design motif used throughout the Old City of Rhodes.
During the 1930’s, a balcony was built in the Kahal Shalom sanctuary, for the seating of women. Prior to that time, women sat in rooms, adjoining the south wall of the synagogue. The women’s prayer rooms (known in Ladino as “la azara”) viewed the sanctuary through windowed openings adorned by latticework.
In the courtyard on the east side of the synagogue, there is a plaque above where a water fountain once existed, and it bears an inscription dated the month of Kislev, 5338 (1577). Apparently, this fountain was constructed at the same time as the synagogue. On the west side of the synagogue there was a religious school (yeshiva), however it was destroyed during WWII. An intriguing feature of the Kahal Shalom sanctuary, is the decoration with numerous religious wall paintings.

Jewish Museum of Rhodes

Jewish Museum of Rhodes

The Jewish Museum of Rhodes was established by Aron Hasson in 1997, to preserve the Jewish history and culture of the Rhodian Jewish community. It is adjacent to the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, which is the oldest synagogue in Greece and is situated in six rooms, formerly used as the women’s prayer rooms.
Locals remember with respect…
For 2,300 years, Jews have lived on the island of Rhodes at the southern tip of the Aegean Sea. The community became Sephardic in the sixteenth century, and was among the most renowned Sephardic communities in the world. The synagogue in Rhodes, Kahal Shalom, was built in 1575 and is the oldest functioning synagogue in Greece.
Rhodes was part of Italy during WWII, having been ceded to the Italians after WWI. As with other areas under Italian occupation, the Jews of Rhodes remained relatively safe until the Germans occupied the island in September 1943. In 1944 there were close to 2,000 Jews living on the island, 50 of whom, as Turkish citizens, fell under the protection of the Turkish consulate. The rest were deported on July 20, 1944. The timing of the deportation is especially painful since, less than three months later, the Germans were forced to leave Greece. Deportations from Rhodes were the last conducted by the Germans in Greece.
On July 20, 1944, the Jews of Rhodes were sent by boat to the Greek mainland. Crammed together in the hot summer sun, without food or water, 23 Jews died on the voyage to the mainland. Those who survived were incarcerated in the SS-operated transit camp Haidary and then deported by train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only 151 Jews from Rhodes survived the Holocaust.

Kal de el Ermano Shemuel Hanan

The Kal de el Ermano Shemuel Hanan

The Kal de el Ermano Shemuel Hanan (located on Kay Ancha) Joseph Hanan owned a store in the Jewish Quarter inside the walls of Rhodes, on what was known as the “Piazza Bruciata” (“the burnt plaza”). There had been a major fire in that plaza, most likely the Great Fire in 1864, and the name stuck among the Jews of the quarter thereafter (it is today known as Hippocrates Square). At the store, Joseph sold household items such as carpets and antiques. He made a very good living and was able to purchase a block of homes in the Jewish Quarter, consisting of two or three adjacent two-story houses on a street known to Gella as Via Principe Umberto, also known in the Jewish community as the “Kaye Ancha” (meaning the wide street in Ladino – today’s Hebrew Martyrs Street). Joseph owned a horse and a carriage which he would use to travel around town. Some of his father’s piousness did get passed down, next to the home where he lived. The Synagogue Hanan, it was a small family synagogue where he would fill the role of the Hazzan, or cantor. All the synagogues had balconies with decorative wooden screens, serving as the women’s section. The women seated in the balcony, could see and hear the services below, while the men could only see the screens. The men’s area was known as La Kehilah and the women’s section as La Azara. None of the Synagogues had social halls. Celebrations were held in the large court-yards of the Synagogues.

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