ISRAELI COMMUNITY OF LARISA
The Larissa Jewish Community is very ancient. It has a living presence, over 1900 years, as reported by many historians and travelers, who visited the city and as shown by many archaeological finds, found in excavations of the city with Jewish symbols. It was and is the largest Jewish Community in Thessaly and the third largest in Greece.
The Jewish Community of Larissa accepted, from time to time, Jews from Hungary, Poland, etc. (the Eskenazim) from Spain (the Sephardim) and from the Peloponnese (the Moraiti). With the arrival in Larissa of the Spanish Jews (Sefaradim) who fled to Greece, after their departure from Spain, in 1492, the Community took its final form. The Spanish Jews mixed with their co-religionists, transmitted to them their culture, civilization and language and contributed not only to the development of the Community, but also to the development of the entire city. At first they established a separate community in Larissa, but later, with the right guidance of wise rabbis, they united into one, which exists to this day.
The community of Larissa developed significantly from the 15th to the 18th century and then it took the title "MANTRE N'ISRAEL". In the period of the Turkish occupation, its progress was halted. In 1881, when Larissa was liberated from the Turks, Larissa had a population of 13.000 inhabitants, of which 2.200 were Jews.
The Jews of Larissa lived and still live, and most of them still do, in the "six streets" district, known as "Jewish", and are actively integrated into the social, economic and cultural fabric of the city. The Jewish quarter is in the center of the city and a very short distance from the Synagogue, the school and the other community institutions.
The Jewish Community of Larissa maintained in operation 7 synagogues, which had been founded in various periods of time and existed until a few years before the last war. Today only one Synagogue is preserved, called "Etz Hayyim" (Tree of Life) and is located on Centauron Street. It was built in 1860 and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. During the Nazi occupation the Germans used it as a stable. However, it was repaired again and still retains its original, traditional and imposing form. The Synagogue is the main pillar of community life, functioning as a place of worship, but also as a place of assembly. That is why it has always been the primary goal of the administrations of the Community and its members to maintain it in excellent condition. Many great Rabbis and religious ministers have served the Community during its long history. Their names, as far as could be gleaned from various historical sources, are as follows:
From 1520 to the Holocaust: Ishaq David, Samuel Tolzo, Isaac Pesso, Baruch Karpillio Daniel, Chaim Gatenoi, Yosef Akoen Benardout, Moses Sassoon David Leon, Solomon Aaron Cohen, Abraham Eligia Yeuda, Judah Dirba David Karpillio, Yosef Peretz, Joseph Nachmoulis, Isaac ar Nachmoulis Eleazar Nahmias, Chaim David Abolafia, Issachar Abolafia, Chaim Nishim Raphael Mocheri, Isaac Frances, Moshe Algava, Chaim Neptune, Yaakov Menashe Akoen Benardut, Shemtov Amarilio, Eleazar Saul Molho, Abraham Molho Yosef Isaac Molho, Yosef Akoen Hassid, Emmanuel Dafa, Moshe Nissim Benjamin Hamui, David Angel, Yomtov Mizan, Simeon Pessach Davician Magrizo, Yosef Algava Bohor, Yaakov Benveniste, David Estrumsa, Judah Algradi, Ishakutso Kampeli, Celebon Kalamaro, Judah Abraham Azouvi, Yaakov Salis, Zacharia Abraham Sassoon.
After the Holocaust: Abraham Zacharias Sassoon, Isaac Moses Kassuto, Jacob Eskenazi, Isaac Leon Mizan, Eliau Abraham Albelansi, Moses Sallis, Elias Sabetai.
Η Synagogue of Larissa operates today with Rabbi Mr. Ilias Shabetai every Friday night (Kabbalat Shabbat), with the active participation of the school's students, every Saturday morning and of course on all Jewish holidays. The Community's major events are organized there (e.g. for the National Holocaust Remembrance Day) and the ceremonies of the Community's members are hosted there (weddings, circumcisions, religious coming of age, memorial services). In recent years, the Synagogue of Larissa has become a popular destination for visiting schoolchildren, students and groups of Jewish tourists from all over the world, as well as a favorite subject for the preparation of graduate and other theses and Erasmus programs.
After 160 years of uninterrupted operation and having withstood earthquakes, disasters and the corrosive humidity of Larissa, the "Etz Hayim" Synagogue is now in need of radical reconstruction, as it was found to have serious static problems that make the safety of those it houses feared. Work began in October 2019 and is ongoing, with the aim of making the building safe and functional while maintaining its historical value and original traditional form. It is an ambitious and costly project that concerns not only the Community of Larissa, but the whole of Greek Jewry as well as the city of Larissa itself, whose Synagogue is an important landmark. Every donation towards the completion of the "Etz Hayim" Synagogue is a beneficence.
At Community of Larissa operated a Jewish school since the years of the Turkish occupation, where the students were taught only the Hebrew language and religion by teachers-rabbis. It also operated a famous university-level seminary ("Talmud Torah"), from which important rabbis, teachers and religious ministers graduated.
In 1931, by a special law of the State, the Jewish school of Larissa it was named "8th Primary School of Larissa - Israelite" and became - the only one in Greece - a public Jewish school. Its students follow the current educational program of primary schools and are additionally taught the Hebrew language, history and religion by a Jewish teacher.
During the occupation the faculty was occupied by the treacherous "Roman Legion" organization, then the Germans turned it into a death row prison, while after the civil war it was ordered to house refugee families. Due to the serious damage it had suffered, the Community could not use it for classes, which were held in other communal or private spaces, and so the building was abandoned and eventually demolished. In 1965, the new faculty was built on the same site, with the help of the Jewish organizations of the external Joint and Claims Conference and the Central Israeli Council. This building functioned continuously, as a cradle of knowledge and excellent Jewish education, for over 50 years.
Hundreds of Jewish children from Larissa passed through the classes of the Jewish school, most of whom excelled at all levels of education and in their subsequent professional careers.
In recent years, however, the number of students has been getting smaller and smaller, with the result that the Jewish school can no longer function with the facilities and amenities of a modern elementary school. In June 2017, the Board of Trustees was forced to make one of the most painful decisions in the Community's history, that of closing the Hebrew School. However, he took care to ensure the continuation of the children's Jewish education, which has always been the most important factor in maintaining and rallying the Community, organizing and undertaking the education of all elementary school children in one of the best private schools in the city. There the children enjoy a high standard general education, while at the same time they are taught Hebrew with their teacher, in a room and time allocated by the school management in respect of our special tradition. The Jewish school area comes alive once a week, when all the children gather there for a lesson focusing on our tradition and customs, while continuing to go to the Synagogue and participate in its services.
The old cemetery of the community was located in the "Neapoli" district. Until 1900 when it functioned, when it was trampled by conquerors and non-conquerors, it had a life of about 500 years. Since then, the present Cemetery has been used, which was created on an area next to the Christian one, which was then purchased by the Community of Larissa. For the needs of funeral ceremonies, the Community has had a special room since 1973, located in the courtyard of the Synagogue.
Before the last World War there were 1020 Jews in Larissa. Many conscripts - members of the Community - who fought the enemy on many fronts took part in the war. Later, many also joined the National Resistance groups. Thirteen (13) Larissa Jews fell for their homeland Greece (4 on the Albanian front and 9 in battles against the Germans).
At March 24, 1944 the Germans arrested the Jews of Larissa, who were taken to the death camps Auschwitz, Bergenau, etc. Only 5 people returned from there, while 235 (percentage 36%) were killed. In their memory, the Community and the Municipality of Larissa dedicated the Monument to the Jewish Martyrs of the Occupation, which was erected at the place where the Germans gathered the Jews, in the square of the same name, in the center of the city (at the junction of Cyprus and Centauri streets). The square was created on a plot of land resulting from the zoning of communal properties. The unveiling of the Monument took place in April 1987.
The following is written on the Monument:
IN ORDER NOT TO FORGET THE MARTYRDOM OF THE 235 INNOCENT JEWS OF LARISA AND THEIR 6.000.000 BROTHERS WHO FELL VICTIMS OF A HORRIBLE GENOCIDE IN THE NAZI CAMPS, THE JEWISH COMMUNITY ERECTED THEIR MEMORIAL ON THE SIDE ONE THAT THE CITY DEDICATED TO THEM.
In 1999, the Municipality of Larissa, with the financial support of the General Secretariat of the Region of Thessaly, erected votive column in memory of the tragic figure of Anne Frank, in whose person he honored the 1.500.000 children who perished in the Holocaust, in another square of the city, named after her and located on Erythrou Stavrou Street.
ADMINISTRATIVE ORGANIZATION - THE COMMUNITY TODAY
The Israelite Community of Larissa is a Public Law Legal Entity with a religious and charitable character and operates on the basis of State Law 2456/20.
The Board of Directors of the Community, which exercises power, has 6 members and is elected by the House of the 25-member Assembly, which results from elections that take place every three years.
The Community with its various committees, with the women's sections of WIZO and AVIV, with its Zionist Association, which has existed since 1906 (the first to be founded in Greece) and with its Youth section, is active in all areas, organizing religious, spiritual and social events, which are not limited only to the context of the Community, as the Larissa Jews, with all their worthy administrations, actively participate in the life of the city and maintain excellent relations with their Christian fellow citizens.
The Community since 1996 has modern community offices, which were built on a plot of land granted to the Community by the Central Israelite Council. They are located on Centauron Street, opposite the Monument.
In the same block are all the institutions of the Community: the spiritual center, the synagogue, the school, the funeral hall.
The spiritual center (the Club) of the Community exists and has been operating since 1954. Most of the events, Kabbalat - Shabbat, school holidays and Passover Centers took place there and are still taking place there. The hall was renovated in 1999. In the same year, the upper floor, which is mainly used by the Youth, was also renovated.
The synagogue operates normally, with the Most Wise Rabbi Mr. Ilias Shabetai, on all Jewish holidays. The synagogue also hosts weddings, Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, Berit Milah, memorial services and Holocaust anniversaries in cooperation with the Prefecture and then with the Region, as January 27th was designated by law as the National Day of Remembrance of the Victims and Heroes of the Holocaust and of Yom-Aatsmaut (Independence Day of the State of Israel).
The school has been operating since 1931 and has produced many generations of students, most of whom have become leaders in society in all fields. From 1959 until 2010, Hebrew was taught by the worthy Hebrew teacher Iakovos Fellous and it is generally considered that those who have finished the Hebrew school of Larissa are distinguished for their Hebrew knowledge. Today the Hebrew teacher is Rifka Varuch, who continues the children's Jewish education successfully.
The Community of Larissa has been ruled by great people throughout the ages, each of whom contributed to its prosperity and development. Its presidents were from the liberation of Thessaly in 1881 until World War II: Chaim I. Alkhanatis, Samuel Begas, Mouson Avram, Moses Matalon, Abraham Cohen, Paris Levis, Salvatore Avram, Chaim E. Alkhanatis.
In possession (mandatory appointees): Aaron A. Hazan, Abraham. I Negris, Yomtov Mano.
After the Holocaust, the Community was managed by: Abraham D. Fais, Lazaros M. Fellows, Isaac M. Magrizos, Moses L. Fellows, Isaac D. Zakar, Esdras D. Moses, Michalis B. Levis, Abraham Il. Albelansis, Moses I .Skinny.
This is the Community of Larissa, which continues its course with faith, will and optimism for the future.