The Cradle of Western Civilization
Home to Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum, Athens is widely regarded as “the cradle of Western civilization” and the birthplace of democracy. It is the capital of Greece and one of the world's oldest cities with a recorded history spanning over four millennia. From the high rocky outcrop of the ancient citadel of the Acropolis one can imagine the dramas of history that took place in the city below.
Concrete information about a Jewish community in Athens is available from the beginning of the first century, and the celebrated Judeo-Hellenistic literature dates back to this era. Jewish Athenians were active in Palestine under Alexander the Great and the Midrash contains references to Jerusalem Jews having a greater wit than Athenian Jews! After the Turkish conquest of Athens (1456), Muhammad II the Conqueror allowed a number of exiles and their descendants to take refuge here following their expulsion from Spain in 1492. With the establishment of Athens as the capital of independent Greece in 1834, Jews with business interests, including the Rothchilds, began establishing themselves. Many of the Salonika Jews moved to Athens after the great Salonica fire of 1917.
Under Italian control for most of the war, Jews were less in danger in Athens than those under the Nazis. After the fall of Mussolini in September 1943, however, the Germans decimated the community. Some were saved by the communist Greek Resistance movement or by fleeing on small boats to the shores of Asia Minor, making their way then to Palestine.
Upon liberation a few thousand emerged from hiding. There are about 3,000 Jews living in Athens today. Many of those who returned were able to build themselves good positions in business, the industry, and the professions. A “Tree of Life” pre-war synagogue Etz Haim can be visited as well as the postwar community run Beth Shalom synagogue. There is a Jewish cemetery, a club and an elementary school, an ORT vocational school and welfare institute. In the 1970s the Jewish Museum of Greece was founded which has expanded since and is the center of excellent educational programs. In Melidoni Street, under the shade of the Acropolis is a moving Holocaust Memorial with geometric marble blocks depicting a broken Magen David. Our guides will help you navigate the complex millennia-long history of the Jewish community in Athens, and introduce you to the breathtaking general sites of ancient Greece!
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