ISRAELI COMMUNITY OF RHODES
The book of Maccabees mentions for the first time the settlement of Jews in Rhodes in the 2nd century BC. Rhodes has preserved, for many centuries, unchanged elements of the Jewish presence. Jewish symbols are still preserved in the narrow, arched, cobbled medieval streets of the "Juderia" district.
The Jews of Rhodes are also mentioned by the historian Josephus in 1 AD. century. Later historical texts confirm their presence in the 12th AD. century, when the Rabbinical traveler Benjamin of Tudela, Spain, visited the island, in 1116, and mentions in his "Itinerary" that he found there 400 to 500 Jews.
Their number increased significantly when other Jews from Aragon settled in 1280. An Italian Rabbinical traveler, who visited Rhodes in 1467, wrote in a letter, which survives in Florence: "I have never seen a Jewish community where everyone, from the oldest to the youngest, is so clever... they have long hair and they look like princes. The leaders of the Knights of Rhodes regularly visit Jewish homes to admire the exquisite embroidery crafts."
The Jews of Rhodes are also recorded as staunch defenders of the city against the Turks, in 1480. After the attack of the Turks, only 22 Jewish families remained on the island, who, despite the fear of the initial attacks by the Turks, regained the strength to continue their lives .
In the 16th century AD many Jews were expelled from Rhodes by decision of the Council of Knights. The arrival of new co-religionist families from Thessaloniki, a little later, resulted in Rhodes becoming an important Sephardic center. During the next four centuries, many Synagogues and Rabbinical Schools were founded, which along with the flourishing of trade gave the Israelite Community a prominent position. Wealthy cloth and silk merchants coexisted with gunsmiths, artisans, bookbinders and weavers. All of them lived in Rhodes, which was a center of international trade, involving money laundering, the slave trade and piracy.
From 1888, the educational program of the Alliance Israelite Universelle School began to operate with donations from Edmond Rothschild.
In 1901 the School was opened for boys and in 1902 for girls. The school building was destroyed by bombing in 1943. The Jews of Rhodes lived in two quarters, maintained two Synagogues, and the tourists who visited mentioned their piety and their preoccupation with theological matters.
OCCUPATION – HOLOCAUST
In 1941, 2.000 Jews lived in Rhodes and maintained four Synagogues. The "Shalom" Synagogue, at the intersection of Dosiadou and Simiou streets, survived the Second World War, as did the ancient Jewish Cemetery. This Synagogue, originally built in the 12th century, was destroyed during the war between the Turks and the Knights of the Temple and rebuilt in the 15th century. In 1944 the Jews of Rhodes and Kos were arrested by the Nazis and sent to Piraeus and from there to Auschwitz. During the Holocaust almost all the Jews of Rhodes perished, only 151 people survived.
Today, the Community consists of about 40 people. The Administrative Committee of I.K. Rhodes maintains the "Shalom" Synagogue, which - apart from religious services - receives thousands of tourists every year due to its great architectural interest. Since 1997, it has been operating in the area of the former Synagogue's women's corner Jewish Museum of Rhodes, sponsored by Rhodesian Jews living abroad.
The Jewish cemetery is also maintained in Rhodes. In June 2002, a Monument dedicated to the memory of the Jews of the island who were exterminated during the Holocaust was erected in the Square of Jewish Martyrs, in the old town of Rhodes.