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October 23, 2014 / 29 Tishri, 5775
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Before The Deluge: Jews Of The Mediterranean Islands (Part I)


book-Die-Juden-in-der-Velt

The stories in this column are translations by Mr. Nollet from Die Juden In Der Welt (The Jews in the World) by Mark Wischnitzer, a long out-of-print book published more than seven decades ago in Germany. The book examines Jewish communities, one country at a time, as they existed in 1935 – a time before the Nazis began their extermination campaign against the Jews and before there was a state of Israel.

 

Jews Of The Mediterranean Islands

Cyprus (continued from last month)

Cyprus is about half the size of today’s Palestine and is mainly mountainous. A smaller chain of mountains stretches along the north coast; the main mountain range in the southwest of the island reaches to more than 2,000 meters above sea level and is covered with various species of pine trees. Between these two mountain ranges lies a high plateau with only minor changes in elevation, and makes up about a third of the island’s total surface.

There is a lot of wine produced, and various kinds of fruits, such as red currants, and olives. On the plateau grows wheat, barley, hops, wine, oranges, pomegranates, flax, cotton, and vegetables, particularly potatoes and onions.

Animal husbandry is practiced, with cattle, sheep, and donkeys exported to Palestine and Egypt.

Cyprus has a population of about 350,000, four-fifths of which is Greek and the other fifth Turkish. The native language is Greek but the language of government is English. The conditions of health are generally good, though there are spots of malaria.  The big harbors are Famagusta, Larnaca, and Limassol. The capital of Nicosia (25,000 inhabitants) lies not far from Larnaca.

Some 200,000 people feed themselves from agriculture, and there are mining activities in the southwest mountains. The wooded highlands are sought out for recreation purposes in the summer by people from Palestine, Syria, and Egypt. Over a third of the people live in cities, mainly as merchants. Attempts have been made to launch tanning and silk industries.

Rhodes

Rhodes is in the Aegean Sea, currently under Italian control. [Translator’s note: Rhodes was awarded to Greece after WWII and today remains Greek, though it lies within eyeshot of the Turkish mainland.] As early as the second century BCE it counted Jewish inhabitants. There was a count in the year 1170 of around 500 souls. A hundred years later, Jews from Tarragona in Spain fleeing persecution found refuge in Saracen-controlled Rhodes.

In 1309, knights of the Christian order of St. John Hospitallers conquered Rhodes, but before this time the presence of the “Evriaka Street” in the village of Mallona, not far from the main city of Rhodes, proves the existence of an already-established Jewish settlement.

The Jews from Spain brought with them the knowledge of cloth manufacturing. Tanning of animal hides was also a Jewish specialty.

Obadja Bertinoro, after his journey of 1488 to Jerusalem, visited Rhodes, and made the following observations: “After vigorous fighting between the Turks and the knights of the Hospice of St. John’s, the number of Jews left remaining on Rhodes was not large.  There were about 22 families, all poor. They feed themselves carefully with vegetables, and never consume bread or meat which they have not themselves slaughtered, and never buy any wine, for fear of having unpleasantries with the Greeks.

“When they visit the market to go shopping, they touch nothing which belongs to the Greeks, and observe prohibitions against wine just as they do prohibitions against swine.  They are well educated and trained, speak a clean language, are moral and ethical, and hospitable. Even the tanners are always cleanly dressed and speak soberly. [The women] all let their hair grow long, and are comely of form. They do all kinds of artwork for the lords of the land, and this is how they feed their menfolk.”

Under Turkish dominion, Jews were able to emigrate from Salonika. The newcomers also busied themselves with trade, craftsmanship, and professions. In the harbor there were Jewish barges and stevedores in no small numbers.

Sources report of a lively synagogue life in the 15thand 16th centuries. The oldest three-barged synagogue dated from the time of the order of Christian knights.

At the turn of the 20th century there was an exodus to the Asiatic mainland; nevertheless there remained behind about 4,000 Jews of a total population of 30,000.  Since then, this number has not been much reduced.

In most recent times one can even observe in Rhodes a cultural advance. In 1927 there was established a rabbinical high school, which also offered secular education in Italian, with Italian literature, and provided the community with spiritual leadership. In what is a sign of the times, the leader of this institution is a Talmud teacher and a doctor of law from the University of Zürich.

Cos

On the island of Cos there is evidence of a Jewish settlement from the second century BCE.  There were pilgrims from Cos to the great temple in Jerusalem. King Herod furnished the Jewish academy with decorations and presents.

In later times, Cos regularly received migrants from Rhodes, for example in 1685, when a new Jewish community was founded. The synagogue which was built in 1747 stands there to this day. The Jews of Cos support themselves though trading of wine and oil. Even as late as 1850 there still lived 50 Jewish families on the island, but only a third of this number still existed there in 1933. There is no rabbi, and they fall under the aegis of the rabbinate on Rhodes.

Lesbos and Lemnos

Lesbos is the largest island in the Aegean archipelago, and lies near the west cost of Asia Minor. It is also called Mytilene, and had an established Jewish population in ancient times. In 1170 Benjamin of Tudela found ten small Jewish communities there.  Nothing more is known about the history of Jews on Lesbos. In 1930 about 100 Jews lived on Lesbos.

At different times Lemnos was inhabited by Jews, but a larger community never arose there.

Next month: Crete and Corfu.

About the Author: Ezra James Nollet is a retired U.S. government chemist living in Poland where he is officer of the local synagogue in Legnica. Before the Deluge appears the last week of each month.


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The Joint Distribution Committee cared for the refugees, directed the care of children, renewed educational facilities, undertook the rebuilding of destroyed houses, etc. Through the year 1930 the Joint Committee distributed over $80 million to the different branches of its relief work, and even distributed aid via affiliated charities to Jewish agricultural settlements in the USSR.

book-Die-Juden-in-der-Velt

The Federation of Jewish Labor by the end of the 1920s consisted of some 125,000 members, of whom 60 percent were employed in the confections industry. After 1929 there was a further rise in the level of Jewish participation in workers’ unions. There were 134,020 Jewish members of the fifty largest trade unions, 34.1 percent of the total number of organized workers, which roughly reflected the level of the Jews in the population of greater New York. In the remaining centers of the garment industry, in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Rochester, almost all the owners were Jews and the workers they employed were mainly Jewish.

The outward orderliness of the new circumstances of life was not without inner quakings of a spiritual crisis. Mixed marriages were extremely frequent in the southern and western states, where Jews were sprinkled in among the Christian populations. They came to about a third of the marriages Jews entered. But after 1881 the picture changed, with the flood of Jewish immigrants into New York. From 1908-1912, only 1.17 percent of marriages involving Jews were mixed.

The (European) press began to busy itself with the problems of emigration. The Austrian Central Body of Jews, which arose in 1848, dedicated itself to this situation. In May of 1848 a Committee for the Promotion of Emigration was started.

On August 22 1654, the Sephardic Jew Jacob Bar-Simson landed in New Amsterdam. It appears he came from Holland. In the beginning of September of the same year, twenty-three Jews set sail for New Amsterdam, refugees from Pernambuco [Translator’s Note: Dutch South America). The ship Saint Charles, which functioned as the Jewish equivalent of the Mayflower for the first Jewish immigration to North America, brought them to the city today known as New York.

Before the beginning of the Common Era, Jews were known to have lived in Sparta, Sikyon, Delphi, Athens, Patras, Mantineja, Laconia, Corinth, Thessalalonika, Philippi, and Beroa. Due to baptism forced on Jews by some Byzantine emperors, a number of Jews emigrated o southern Italy. Otherwise, there was a line of Jewish communities in the 12th century. By itself Thebes housed 2,000 families, Salonika 500 families, and middle-sized settlements arose in Halmyros, Corinth, Drama, Krisa, Naupactos, Ravnica, Arta, and Lamia.

Under the influence of the Age of Enlightenment, the cultural union “Toalet” was formed, which published a number of works of by Hebraic scientists and works of fiction. In recent times, the Jewish-scientific movement has found its stride with the “Union of Jewish Science,” which was founded by S. Seeligmann, a historian and a bibliophile. In its university library, Amsterdam possesses a most valuable Jewish section, the so-called “Rosenthaliana,” which was named after the philanthropist Leiser Rosenthal, who was the father of the Baron von Rosenthal.

The present kingdom of Persia, which recently officially took the name “Iran,” encompasses a region of over 1,640,000 square kilometers with about 15 million inhabitants. The most important cities are the capital Tehran as well Tabris, Mesched, and Isfahan (the former capital).

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