“Historic Legacy and Heritage of Greek Jews” Webinar Panel Discussion

Join us Sunday for the East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance's/ EMBCA’s on January 28, 2024 at 2 P.M. EST/ 9 P.M. Athens EEST. The discussion will be introduced and moderated by Lou Katsos EMBCA’s President. The distinguished panel will include Dr. Mimi Cohen; Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos the Museum Director of Kehila Kedosha and the President of The Association of Friends of Greek Jewry; Author Dr. Steven Bowman Professor Emeritus of the University of Cincinnati; and Educator/ Community Leader, Peter Stavrianidis, PHD.

The historic heritage and legacy of Greek Jews weave a rich tapestry of cultural, economic, and intellectual contributions within the broader narrative of Greek history. Spanning centuries, this legacy reflects both moments of harmonious coexistence and periods of challenges, highlighting the resilience of a community deeply embedded in the Hellenic tapestry.

Greek Jews can trace their roots back to ancient times, with a presence dating to Ancient Hellenic, Hellenistic and Roman eras. Thriving in various cities, they played significant roles in commerce and cultural exchanges, contributing to the cosmopolitan character of places like Thessaloniki among others. The Greek Jewish community's flourishing continued under Byzantine rule, although occasional tensions existed.

The Ottoman Empire's ascendancy fostered a unique Sephardic Jewish community in Greece. Following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, many sought refuge in Ottoman territories, including Greece. Thessaloniki became a major center for Sephardic Jewry, evolving into a vibrant hub of cultural and intellectual exchange. The Ladino language, a Judeo-Spanish dialect, flourished as a testament to this cultural amalgamation.

Greek Jews contributed to the economic vitality of their communities. They engaged in commerce, finance, and crafts, establishing a significant presence in the Ottoman Empire's economic landscape. This prosperity, however, did not shield them from adversity. The 19th century witnessed societal and political upheavals, setting the stage for the emergence of modern Greece. with the Hellenic War of Independence (1821-1829) marking in a way a turning point. Greek Jews, embedded in the struggle for autonomy, faced dilemmas of loyalty and identity. Some actively participated in the revolutionary cause, aligning with their fellow Greeks against the Ottoman rulers. Others, however, expressed concerns about their status in an independent Greece and, at times, faced reprisals, and massacres as in Tripolitza.

The 20th century brought unprecedented challenges, culminating in the Holocaust during World War II. During the fascist Axis powers invasion of Greece starting on October 28, 1940 approx. 13,000 Greek Jews fought in the Hellenic army including well known and decorated Col. Mordechi Frizis fighting in a force which successfully repelled the invading Italian army. The eventual Nazi occupation of Hellas and holocaust however resulted in the horrific devastating murder of at least 81 % of Greek Jews, and the vibrant Hellenic Jewish presence in cities like Thessaloniki and Ioannina among many others being decimated. On January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day we commemorate and honor the memory of Holocaust victims, six million Jews, "one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities,".

Post-war Greece saw a rebuilding of the Greek Jewish community, albeit on a smaller scale. The survivors, alongside Jewish immigrants, endeavored to revive their cultural and religious institutions. Despite the traumatic experiences, Greek Jews actively contributed significantly to the Hellenic nation’s recovery and development.

Thessaloniki, historically a center of Jewish life, underwent profound changes. The once-thriving Jewish quarter was forever altered, and the city's demographics shifted. The loss of a significant part of the Jewish heritage was palpable, yet the resilience of the community persevered.

In contemporary Greece, the legacy of Greek Jews is evident in various facets of society. Synagogues, cemeteries, and cultural landmarks serve as tangible reminders of the historical intertwining of Hellenic national narratives. Efforts to preserve and commemorate this heritage have gained momentum, reflecting a collective acknowledgment of the importance of diversity within the national identity.

The cultural contributions of Greek Jews extend beyond tangible artifacts. The culinary traditions, linguistic influences, and artistic expressions continue to resonate in Greek society. Ladino, once endangered, is now preserved as a cultural treasure, connecting generations to the vibrant Sephardic past.

The historic heritage and legacy of Greek Jews illuminate the complexities of coexistence, resilience in the face of adversity, and the enduring impact of cultural exchanges. As Greece navigates its present and future, the contributions of the Jewish community remain a strong integral part of the nation's identity, fostering a collective understanding that transcends religious and ethnic boundaries. The preservation and celebration of this legacy underscore the interconnectedness of Greek history and the enduring threads of diversity that enrich the nation's tapestry and what will be explored in this panel discussion.

The image for the event is the Mosaic floor of a synagogue in Aegina, Greece from 300 AD.

EMBCA is an organization exempt from Federal Income Tax under Internal Revenue (IRC) Section 501(c)(3), classified as a public charity, and qualifies to receive tax deductible bequests, devises, transfers or gifts under Section 2055, 2106, or 2522 . Donors can deduct contributions they make under IRC Section 170. Thank you all again for your continuing enthusiasm and support of our events !!