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Ancient Rhodes . . . Ancient Synagogue

Professor Arnie Greenberg

Visitors to the Synagogue in Rhodes

Our private guide

There is something exciting about returning to Rhodes. Not many of the 90,000 people came out to greet me but the souvenir stands were ready and the sweet smells of the flowers, bakeries and restaurants drew me into the maze-like city as it had before. This was an island teeming with history, crammed with visitors and boasting great cruise ships from many ports. The day would go quickly as we sat in the main square .the Square of the Martyred Jews, next to the memorial to the victims of the holocaust and read from our trusty guidebook.

One cannot imagine the original port with it’s great arch, The Colossus of Rhodes, an ancient wonder.

I understood that this island figured prominently in the Aegean civilization of ancient times. From the age of the Dorians it flourished as a commercial center with colonies scattered throughout the Aegean basin. In the 5th century BC the Dorian League became part of the confederacy under Athens. But the League broke up around the 4th century BC and by 332 Rhodes submitted to Alexander the Great. When he died, the citizens of Rhodes revolted and sent the Macedonians packing, so to speak. BC. Over the next 200 years it achieved prosperity and political power. It became the center of culture with art and artists making a name for themselves. It was the work of Chares in the 3rd century BC who created the celebrated Colossus, built to celebrate their victory over the Persians. It was a 98-foot statue of the sun God Helios, later replaced by Apollo. It was destroyed by earthquake in 225 BC Here too lived the great Laocoon ( Lay-ah-ca-wan) who was the subject of great sculptures. Later they sided with Julius Caesar in his struggle with Pompey.

By 394 AD the Rhodesians were attached to the Ottoman Empire which lasted until 1309 when the Knights of St John of Jerusalem occupied it. Later the Turks returned, lay siege to Rhodes and ruled the island until the Turko-Italian War of 1912. The island was ceded to Greece in 1947.

Today there is a flourishing economy based on agricultural products manufactured goods, carpets, soap and brandy. Of course tourism flourished with the expansion of the port and the construction of modern beach hotels.

Today, Rhodes has 27 beaches and international tourists bungy-jumping or using go-carts, snorkeling, or on jet skis, banana-boats, water bikes or para-sailing.

The city is teeming with restaurants and bars.

But there is another side to this fascinating city. Here in the midst of the maze of tiny streets is a small but expanding synagogue, a testimony to the days when Jews were free to live and worship here.  

After 1492 and the Spanish Inquisition, the Jews who left Spain settled in many of the areas controlled by the Ottomans. Rhodes was one such place although there were Jews there as far back as the second century BC, as one can read in the book of Maccabees. Even the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius refers to the Jewish presence in Rhodes.

The Sephardic Jews brought with them their culture, their customs and traditions. The language spoken was Ladino or Judeo-Spanish.

By the 1920s there were about 4,500 Jews in Rhodes (the Capital of the island.

By 1943 Rhodes was taken over by the Germans and on July 23 1944, 1673 members of the Jewish Community were arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Only 151 survived.

After the war the island was ceded to Greece. Today there are only a handful of  Jews living in Rhodes but the ancient synagogue is being reconstructed with both public and private funds and recently with the unstinting help of a Jewish couple from South Africa who is spending their retirement seeing that the building and museum is rebuilt.

The Kahal (Kadosh) Shalom Synagogue (Holy Congregation of Peace) is the oldest in Greece and the last remaining in Rhodes. It has been standing on central Dossiadou and Simiou Streets since the 1570s.  It is still used by visiting groups of former residents for special occasions, High Holiday and Sabbath services.

It follows the traditional Sephardic style with the tevah or prayer reading table in the center of the sanctuary, facing southeast toward Jerusalem.

TEVAH - click to enlarge

The floor is decorated with graceful black and white mosaic stone patterns in a motif often seen in the Old City of Rhodes.

In 1934a balcony was created along the western wall of the sanctuary as a result of the liberalization of religious policy. Prior to that women were separated from men in rooms along the south wall.

In that space where the Mikvah or cleansing bath had stood, there is a sanctuary and a newly acquired Museum of Jewish Rhodes.,

It was established in 1997 in order to preserve the Jewish hertage on Rhodes as well as to advance public awareness and appreciation of the history of the community.


Eternal light - click to enlarge
Eternal light

On the west entrance there is a plaque that states:

Peace in the world,

let there be peace…

May our eyes see the erection of the temple in Jerusalem.

With God’s coming, salvation abounds.

For more information or to make a donation to the museum or reconstruction write to The Jewish Community of Rhodes

5 Polydorou St. (Old City), Rhodes, Greece, 85100

 or Email:

Their web site is

A typical old wedding

The Jewish Cemetary is 2 KM outside the old city. It is one of the oldest, best-preserved and historically significant Jewish cemeteries in the world. The recent recovery and restoration of 400 ancient burial stones that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries.

There is much more to the Island of Rhodes than the city. It is about 540 Sq. miles with many beautiful towns and a mountain peak about 4,000 feet above sea level. The farms and seaports produce cotton, fruit, sponges and tobacco.

The town of Lindos is worth visiting for at least part of a day. It is in a beach area along the southeast coast.

Ancient city wall Rhodes - click to enlarge
Ancient city wall Rhodes

Arnie Greenberg June 2008

Write to me at

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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