A Visit to Rhodes

Posted on October 7th, 2013 by

While recently on vacation in Turkey and Greece I had the opportunity to visit the Synagogue and Jewish Museum of Rhodes, Greece.

interior

interior

The Kahal Shalom is the oldest Jewish synagogue in Greece, and the sole remaining synagogue on the Island of Rhodes used for services. It is located in the Jewish Quarter (called “La Juderia”) 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).  Our docent, Schmuel Modiano, was a survivor of Birkenau.  He spoke to a group of visitors, similar to the way the JMM arranges for Holocaust survivors speak to visiting groups.

Docent with visitors

Docent with visitors

The Jewish community of Rhodes has an historical background dating back to ancient times. During the past five hundred years, the background of the Jews of Rhodes 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. During its height in the 1930’s, 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 bima 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.  One decorative pattern includes the year 5601 or 1840-41.  An intriguing feature of the Kahal Shalom sanctuary is that it is decorated with numerous religious wall paintings.

During the 1930’s, a balcony was built in the Kahal Shalom sanctuary for seating of the women. Prior to that time the women sat in rooms adjoining the south wall of the synagogue. The women’s prayer rooms  viewed the sanctuary through windowed openings adorned by latticework.

Docent with Group

Docent with Group

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, however it was destroyed during World War II.

Today there are about 40 Jews living in Rhodes, who practice their religion in the Synagogue.  However, it is worth mentioning that the Synagogue is also open to the public that visit it because of its great historic and architectural interest. In 2002 the Municipality approved the erection of a Monument of the Victims of the Holocaust in the Jewish Martyrs square, in the place where the Jewish quarter used to be. The Jewish cemetery of the island is still preserved.

Holocaust Memorial

Holocaust Memorial

ilene cohenA blog post by Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen. To see more posts from Ilene click here.

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Once Upon a Time…03.23.2012

Posted on November 13th, 2012 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week.  If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contactJobi Zink, Senior Collections Manager and Registrar at 410.732.6400 x226 or jzink@jewishmuseummd.org.

Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  March 23, 2012

PastPerfect Accession #:  1992.108.001

Status:  Unidentified! Do you know them? A 1951 Purim celebration at Agudath Achim Synagogue

 

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A Mystery in Signage

Posted on June 26th, 2012 by

Hi everyone! My name is Ariella Esterson and I am one of the new Education interns here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. I am currently finishing my undergraduate degree in History and Secondary Education at Queens College in New York. Since starting my internship a few weeks ago, I have been lucky enough to shadow some tours and help rewrite the docent tour script. While reading through the script and participating in a tour, I have recently noticed the Hebrew inscription that is located on the outside of B’nai Israel.

Looking at this plaque, I was left with many questions. When was it put up and more importantly what did it say? Being able to read and understand Hebrew, I was able to figure out that the first line read “Sh’ar Shel Beit El” with means in English “Gate of the House of God.” This is written to symbolize that this building is a synagogue or Jewish house of worship. After consulting with a book on Hebrew acronyms, I can safely assume that the second line, the “Kuf Kuf” stands for “Kehilla Kedosha” or “Holy Congregation.” The third line was when I started having some issues translating. It seemed to be like a bunch of gibberish, with letters strewn all over the place. It was hard to determine what each letter was, and I realized I needed to do some research. The fourth line I assumed was a date, but until I solved the mystery of the third line, I assumed the fourth line would make no sense.

While scanning the Past Perfect database, I finally stumbled on a picture of this plaque that was accessioned to the museum in 1987 (1987.173.071)

As one can clearly see from this picture, besides for the peeling paint and old feeling to the plaque, the third line is clearly visible. The letters spell out the name of the synagogue “B’nai Israel.” Now that I knew what line 2 said, I played detective and matched up those letters to the plaque that is up now. Taking a pen and outlining the letters that made the words “B’nai Israel,” I found that the leftover letters spelled “Chizuk Amuno,” the old synagogue that used to reside there! What a find!

Although I was able to decipher what the third line said, I was still left with a burning question. Which synagogue name was listed on the plaque first? I hoped that the fourth line would help shed some light on this question. I hoped that this would result in a date of when the plaque went up, which would reveal which synagogue was listed first. Using Gematria, which is assigning a numerical value to Hebrew letters, I was able to see that “Taf” equals 400, “Reish” equals 200, “Lamed” equals 30, and “Vav” equals 6, to make a grand total of 636. To my disappointment, this was not a year that I could use. My eyes then saw the last three letters on the plaque which are “Lamed” “Pey” and “Kuf.” Consulting once again my acronym dictionary, I got the words, “L’Prat Katan,” which in English means “Small details.” What this means is that back in the day when years were written they would leave out a letter (Hey, which in this case would be 5,000) from the beginning of the year, but they would put this acronym at the end to remind the reader to add the original 5,000. When that is added, there is now a grand total of 5,636. When this year is converted to the English year, you are left with 1876, the year Chizuk Amuno was established!

Based on this information, one can safely assume that “Chizuk Amuno” was etched in first on the plaque. When the building was bought by “B’nai Israel,” they covered up the original letters and re-etched the name of their synagogue. During the restoration period in the 1980’s, workers uncovered both synagogue names and decided to keep them both there for all visitors to see the transformation. I can now say mystery solved!

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