|Rhodes, an island off of Turkey, but was a Greek-owned island|
a place within the Mediterranean Sea; very close to Israel
where Jews lived undisturbed for about 1,500 years
what a find for geneticists to test DNA
There is an island in the Aegean Sea called Rhodes. It is the largest of Greece’s Dodecanese islands. According to tradition, Jews came here to live in the 2nd century BCE. They probably were able to live there as an isolated people until the 12th Century when Sephardi Jews were still escaping from the Spanish Inquisition and joined them, then numbering 500 Jews on the island. By then, the Middle East had been taken over by the Ottoman Empire and Islam, which developed with the advent of Mohammad's death in 632. At that time, the Christian world was coming down on the heads of Jews even earlier than 1492 when the Spanish decree was that all Jews had to either convert or leave the country.
The Jews on Rhodes found themselves being governed by the rule of the Knights of St. John, a Christian ruling party, from 1309 to 1522. It was headquartered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta,
"After the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291 (Jerusalem itself had fallen in 1187), the Knights were confined to the County of Tripoli and, when Acre was captured in 1291, the order sought refuge in the Kingdom of Cyprus. Finding themselves becoming enmeshed in Cypriot politics, their Master, Guillaume de Villaret, created a plan of acquiring their own temporal domain, selecting Rhodes to be their new home, part of the Byzantine empire. His successor, Fulkes de Villaret, executed the plan, and on 15 August 1309, after over two years of campaigning, the island of Rhodes surrendered to the knights. "
|Knights of St. John-Malta KnightsThe Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem|
The Turks did take over and rule, which brought many Sephardi settlers and changed the composition of the community which was formerly under the Christian Greeks.
WWI came along and the Italians occupied the island from 1912 in an attempt to make Rhodes a center for the diffusion of an Italianized Jewish culture among the Jews of the Middle East, and in the Fascist period, a rabbinical seminary was even established.
Then in 1938 on the brink of WWII, the Italian anti-Semitic legislation led to a considerable exodus from the island mostly going to Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo. Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, had passed a series of anti-Semitic decrees that affected the Jews of Rhodes because the islands were then Italian. Those that stayed sadly were deported to their death by the Germans in WWII and few lived out of a population of about 4,000. They were all murdered on July 23, 1944 by the Nazis.
|Rhodes at night|
In 1956, Greek Jews were urged to move to Rhodes, so 20 Jewish families took up the offer and were able to be a part of a small but tightly knit and vibrant Jewish community. By 1970, an exodus began and many young Jews left Rhodes for better educational and employment opportunities. However, people do return who have family roots from the island.
Aaron A. had been living in Zimbabwe and was able to visit his ancestral home a year ago. He now lives in Florida. Vic visited Rhodes recently. His father had lived there in 1938 and Vic had celebrated Yom Kippur with him then. It was the last time Vic was able to see his father. He recalled being with him, the close-knit community, the rich family life they had that was centered around the charming Jewish Quarter with its cobbled alleyways that led to the huge waterfront; the world for him that was.
Today, " Rhodes is known for its beach resorts, ancient ruins and structural remnants of its crusades-era occupation by the Knights of St. John. Rhodes City features the medieval Street of the Knights and the castle-like Palace of the Grand Masters, once a Turkish prison and now a museum. The city’s bars, clubs and cafes bustle during high season. It's quite the tourist attraction for nearby people. People come here to celebrate the High Holidays who have family roots from the island. Every Friday night in the summer they do have a minyan and hold services. They come to hold weddings, bar and bat mitzvas with at least 100 attending and they come from Paris, Cape Town, England and Australia. They even have built a museum on the island. "Weather: 73°F (23°C), Wind W at 13 mph (21 km/h), 53% Humidity. NIce!
Resource: The Jerusalem Report, August 24, 2015, p. 30-35.
The New Standard Jewish encyclopedia: Rhodes