GET­TING THERE

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

were ar­rested by the Nazis and sent by con­voy to Crete’s cap­i­tal city Her­ak­lion, where they were herded onto a ship, the Tanais.

In the early hours of the next morn­ing, half­way to the port of Pi­raeus, the ship was struck by tor­pe­does fired from a Bri­tish sub­ma­rine and sank within 15 min­utes, 2,300 years of Cre­tan Jewish his­tory trag­i­cally oblit­er­ated in a sin­gle day.

For nearly 50 years, the Jewish quar­ter and syn­a­gogue slowly sank into obliv­ion. A se­ri­ous earth­quake dam­aged the syn­a­gogue to the point of im­mi­nent col­lapse and Ni­cholas Stavroulakis, Emer­i­tus Di­rec­tor of the Jewish Mu­seum of Greece, fought for its pro­tec­tion. With fund­ing pro­vided by var­i­ous foun­da­tions, the syn­a­gogue was of­fi­cially re-opened on 10 Oc­to­ber 1999 with its mikve — used for throw­ing refuse in af­ter the Jews left, and even­tu­ally capped with ce­ment be­cause of its stench — made work­able once again and fed by an ice-cold spring.

Nowa­days, there is no of­fi­cial com­mu­nity at Etz Hayyim but there are a hand­ful of Jewish res­i­dents, none of whom were born in Crete, who host Kab­balat Shab­bat ser­vices ev­ery Fri­day night. We go along, en­ter­ing the mar­ble gate and court­yard that takes us into the syn­a­gogue and are im­me­di­ately blown away by the in­ti­macy and feel­ing of to­geth­er­ness that the 30 minute ser­vice cre­ates.

There couldn’t have been more than 25 of us al­to­gether, fac­ing each other on benches in a small, air­less room framed by white walls and Vene­tian arches, book­shelves filled with Sid­durim with an Ohel at one end and Bimah on the other.

Kab­balat Shab­bat book­lets were handed out but no one in par­tic­u­lar leads the ser­vice; it is more of a group ef­fort with in­di­vid­u­als with dif­fer­ent ac­cents vol­un­teer­ing to read cer­tain

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sec­tions, ei­ther in English or He­brew, our voices unit­ing in song at the key mo­ments.

It is a beau­ti­ful ser­vice; sim­ple, with­out a hint of pre­tence. I re­cite the pray­ers and think of what this syn­a­gogue has been through — as re­cent as 2010, two ar­son at­tacks in the space of 10 days gut­ted the of­fice and de­stroyed rare manuscripts — and I sud­denly feel EDITED BY CATHY WIN­STON cwin­ston@thejc.com easyJet (easyjet. com), or from £125 from Manch­ester with Ryanair (ryanair.com).

in­cred­i­bly moved. “They try so hard to wipe us out, but here we are, Jews to­gether. We have sur­vived,” I whis­per to my old­est son. His eyes scan the room and, al­though he is 11, I know he un­der­stands.

Af­ter­wards, there is Kid­dush and we chat to some of the peo­ple, many of them French-speak­ing, and learn that this is a big crowd and off-peak,

they strug­gle to draw in more than five peo­ple at most.

Leav­ing the Shul, we wan­der through the nar­row streets be­tween the Par­o­dos Portu and Par­o­dos Kondi­laki which used to be the Jewish quar­ter, known as Ovraiki. There’s not much left of it to see but the Ela restau­rant, just op­po­site the syn­a­gogue, was built on the site of a for­mer Jewish-owned soap fac­tory and nearby there is the for­mer Tal­mud To­rah school.

Oth­er­wise, the quar­ter is now home to ice-cream par­lours, Greek tav­er­nas, Star­bucks and sou­venir shops sell­ing Cre­tan good­ies such as olive oil soaps and fish­ing knives.

Back at the ho­tel the next day, we re-en­ter ‘fun’ mode and head to the nearby Cac­tus wa­ter sports shack fur­ther up the beach where I am co­erced by my chil­dren onto a ‘Sofa & Rings’ — a float­ing sofa at­tached by a rope to a speed boat — which I dis­mount af­ter 15 min­utes, shak­ing, ex­hil­a­rated, my face soaked with sea wa­ter spray and tears of laugh­ter. I set­tle my nerves with a glass of ouzo at the ho­tel bar be­fore tak­ing com­fort in the Cre­tan cui­sine at the all-in­clu­sive lunch buf­fet — my favourite dishes be­ing the Greek salad, veg­etable mous­saka, Spanako­pita (spinach and cheese pie) and, of course, bread slathered in olive pate and melitzanos­alata (aubergine dip). The kids, nat­u­rally, favoured the very Greek dish of, erm, spaghetti in tomato sauce fol­lowed by vanilla ice-cream.

Yes, Crete knows how to do fam­ily hol­i­days well. I’ll be hold­ing this one in my mind’s eye for years to come.

Check in to the Santa Ma­rina Beach ho­tel to un­cover Crete’s sights and his­tory

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