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May 3, 2015 / 14 Iyar, 5775
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Before The Deluge: The Jews Of Greece


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This picture changed in the 1920s when, due to the population exchanges, the Greek element became stronger. [After World War I, which Turkey lost, it expelled tens of thousands of Greeks who lived in Turkey and Greece likewise packed its Turks over to Turkey.] With the immigration of 200,000 Greeks, the Jews were reduced to a quarter of the total population.

In the shipping industry, the competition with the Greeks made itself felt when the imposition of a Sunday day of rest, which disadvantaged the Jews, all of whom observed the Sabbath, since it deprived them of one day of work every week.

During the Greek Revolution of 1821 [when Turkey controlled all of Greece], the Jewish population of the Peleponesos and the middle of Greece was almost entirely wiped out. When Greece gained its independence in 1830, there existed but a single Jewish community on the whole island of Euboia [Negroponte]. Later there arose a community in Athens.

Since 1881 Greece has experienced territorial gains via diplomacy, which meant an increase in its Jewish population. In 1933 the number of Jews in Greece was estimated at 100,000. With 70,000 Jews, Salonika has the biggest community, followed by Janina with 4,000 Jews; Athens, Cavalla, Larissa, and Seres with more than 2,000, and more cities with smaller populations.

Salonika has 30 synagogues, Talmud-Torahs, and yeshivot and a whole array of secular Jewish schools, which were established partially by the Alliance Israélite Universelle, and partially by German Jewish philanthropy. Salonika has been a long-established center of Jewish publishing since the 16th century. Of the previously existing five Spaniolisch [Ladino] language newspapers, only one remains.

The Jews supported the Young Turk movement [which deposed the last Sultan at the end of WWI] that arose in Salonika. Jews now take part in the political and parliamentary life of Greece.

In Salonika lived the sect of the Dönmeh, which after the break-up of Shabbtai Zvi’s messianic movement converted to Islam. When the Turkish population of Salonika had to leave, in the wake of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey after WWI, the Dönmeh left with them and settled in Istanbul and Izmir (Smyrna).

Today Greece offers Jews only limited economic opportunities. A Jewish emigration to France, Italy, Belgium, and England has been noted as well as to Cuba, South America, Egypt, and Palestine. The skilled harbor workers of Salonika now are busily employed in the new port of Haifa.

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 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.

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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/feautures-on-jewish-world/the-jews-of-greece/2013/05/29/

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