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The “mysterious” Jew of Tunisia

Georgia N. Gleoudi

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33 days after the Jewish Easter. The Jews are preparing to celebrate Lag BaOmer. The Ghriba Synagogue with its Blue Tiles on Djerba Island in Tunisia wears its festivals to welcome its faithful who come from all corners of the world to celebrate Lag BaOmer with the 1100 Jews of the island.

Jews, Christians and Muslims come to the synagogue to pray and light candles. Women sit on the floor to put their eggs there with their wishes written on them. According to the local tradition, the stone of the floor used to be in the Temple of Jerusalem. Outside of the synagogue, the musicians have not stopped playing, the dried figs of wine flow abundantly and all of them eat from a table full of fish and couscous.

The story of the Jewish community

According to the history, a large number of Jews fled to Tunisia after the first temple was destroyed by the Romans, around 500 BC. During this period the first synagogue was built. The Jews brought with them a door from the Temple as well as a stone from the altar of the Temple. Today, according to the residents of the area, both the door and the stone are placed into the “Ghriba” Synagogue.

However, the Sephardic Jews of Spain found shelter on the island of Tunisia after the persecutions suffered by King Ferdinand and Isabella. Until 1956, when Tunisia gained its independence from France, the Jews would count 100,000 of which most would live on Djerba Island in harmony with their Muslim brothers.

In Arabic, Ghriba means “mysterious”, “strange” and many wonder why this name was given to the synagogue. According to the myth that dominates the narratives, the place where the congregation was discovered at the beginning of the 19th century inhabited a young “mysterious” girl who never spoke to anyone on the island. The girl died in her cabin when it grabbed fire. Surprisingly, the Jewish residents found her body intact and, in honor of the “mysterious” girl, founded the “Ghriba” Synagogue in the Jewish village of Harah Seghira.

The Lag BaOmer feast and coexistence

The pilgrimage to Lag BaOmer attracts hundreds of Jews from all over the world. They visit the synagogue, pray and participate in the rites that take place in both days of the feast. The marches are in the form of a wedding ceremony and symbolize the secret union between the People of Israel and the Divine. Women leave eggs with the name of a single girl in the place where the girl’s body is supposed to be found. The festival includes both Jews and Muslims. Muslim neighbors help the Jews prepare the place to welcome all this crowd. They also pray in the Synagogue while Muslim women leave the same eggs with written wishes in Arabic so they can get married in the future.

Muhammad has been making mats for the congregation for 50 years. “The most important thing for us is to show that in Djerba Jews and Muslims can live together harmoniously.”

As many people leave for a nearby beach or casino, the local Jews stay in the Synagogue so they can continue their own local customs: the first haircut of a three-year-old boy or the preparation of a big and specific dinner where the whole community will sit together.

The revenue that comes from the Lag BaOmer feast is enough. All the money is for the Jewish nursing home of the village of Harah Seghira and for the maintenance of the twenty synagogues on the island.

Amal who works in Houmt’s market and goes every year to the Synagogue to worship, says “Everything is to be human. We sit here next to each other and we see no difference. “

Walking through the streets of Djerba you can not recognize the Jew by the Muslim. Only a few older Jews put a piece of black cloth at the bottom of their trousers. Mourning for the destruction of the Temple.

Over the last three decades most visitors come from places outside Tunisia. By 2015, however, Israel issued a directive to Israeli citizens not to travel to Tunisia for the annual pilgrimage for safety reasons.

Earlier in the year, the country had suffered three terrorist attacks by extremist religious organizations. Almost all the attacks were in places an hour away from the island. That year, the security measures for the pilgrimage were draconian with checkpoints all over the island, special forces scattered all over, and military trucks full of guns.

On the first day of the feast, Abdelfattah Mourou, spokesman for the moderate Muslim party Islamic Enhanda, embraced rabbi Bittan outside the synagogue and told the crowd “Tunisia is protecting its Jews. What leads to the extremes is the existence of only one culture and one culture. The existence of many cultures leads us to accept one another normally. “

The Jews of today

Today, 1100 Jews live in Djerba. According to chief rabbi Haim Bittan each year only 30 new births are made to Jewish families. In recent years, Jews have begun to leave the place not because of persecution of a religious or racial nature but because of a financial crisis.

Yisha Mamou, 24, who is a teacher at the Hebrew Kindergarten, says “I graduated economically at public high school but, like most in Tunisia, I did not have the opportunity to continue at the University. I want to leave because I have nothing to do. All I do is go back to work and work on the house. “

Until 2004, the Jewish community of Tunisia supported three elementary schools, two lyceums and a religious study school (yeshiva) as well as archbishop. A few years ago, the only Kosher restaurant was closed, and as the whole Jewish community shows, it will begin to shrink if both their own state and the community itself find ways to keep young people there.

Georgia Gleoudi is a graduate of "MA in Religious Roots in Europe: in Lund University and has a BA in International Relations and European Studies from Panteion University, Athens. She is interested in Religion and State relations, faith - based diplomacy and intercultural relations

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Recognition of Macedonian schism by Constantinople – Threat Remains

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After the publication in Macedonian news agency Sloboden Pecat, many believers of Serbian Orthodox Church gave a sigh of relief supposing that the common sense prevailed and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew discarded his intention to grant autocephaly to the schismatic Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC). But it appeared that such hopes were premature.

The article in Sloboden Pecat reads that Patriarch of Constantinople had sent a letter to MOC that admitted Serbian Orthodox Church’s (SOC) jurisdiction over Macedonian archdioceses and thus he had no rights to satisfy Skopje’s request for autocephaly. Ironically Greek mass media used this as an pretext to accuse Fanar of bribery.

A few days ago Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a refutation on its official cite, claiming that they didn’t sent a letter to the MOC and haven’t even heard of the Serbian gold.

While Serbians keep praying, Constantinople continues secret negotiations with the MOC. According to some sources this is why Metropolitan Amphilochios of Adrianople carries out frequent trips to Macedonia. At the same time statements of Fanar’s clergymen and Patriarch Bartholomew demonstrate phyletic intentions with a purpose of establishing the superiority of “Greek” church over all others as “the first without equals”. So the threat of the recognition of Macedonian schism by Constantinople is still relevant.

But the Fanar’s primary aim now is to force SOC into recognizing the autocephaly of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) – such a precedent will path the way for Macedonian tomos of autocephaly in the future.

Obviously our Church shouldn’t trust fake publications of the mass media. On the other hand there’s no point in passive expecting of “His All-Holiness” Bartholomew to declare his will. Considering that the community temporarily believed in a possibility of a “fair verdict” from the Fanar, Serbian Patriarchate’s position must be based not only on historical truth and church canons but on public opinion as well. In this regard the separatists’ worst nightmares of Constantinople going back to the canonical path can come true.

Constantinople has the right to revoke the tomos of autocephaly of any Slavic church at any time. Recently Archbishop Job of Telmessos. In the same interview he said that the name “Serbian Orthodox Church” is uncanonical and is a sign of ethnophyletism. If it’s not a declaration of war, then it’s at least a direct threat to Serbian Patriarchate. History shows that accusations of ethnophyletism sound when Greeks need to infringe the rights of Slavic Churches or deprive them of independency.

The Ukrainian example proves that Constantinople easily revokes the historical signatures of its patriarchs and no matter how much gold they were paid and how long ago the papers were signed – 100 or 300 years ago. Will Constantinople be allowed to go on rejecting its own decisions unilaterally and broaden its borders in the future? It mostly depends on the position of Local churches including ours. If we don’t react now then Serbian Church will face the fate of Moscow which is losing its territories land by land.

Patriarch Irinej needs Constantinople to officially recognize that the tomos of 1922 still has legal power despite the changing historical circumstances and that the extension of SOC jurisdiction over Macedonian archdioceses is no discussion point. We need a document that will be undoubtedly canonical and impossible to cancel at a moment’s notice. At least personal signatures of patriarch Bartholomew are still more trustworthy than fake mass media publications.

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The Jews of Chalkida

Georgia N. Gleoudi

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“When we returned, we had no bed to sleep, no pots to cook, nor clothes to dress. We went to our house and it was confiscated by others. We rented a room in our house and the whole family lived there.”

At Kotsou Street

Mair Maissis is in the Synagogue of Halkida, eager to guide anyone who passes itsdoor and wants to learn more about the Jewish community and the Jewish cemetery of Chalkida. Willing and full of energy, he would start explaining me the architecture of the — the Romaniote type — Synagogue.

“The two columns of our Synagogue prove its antiquity. A large number of scholars regard the Synagogue of Chalkis as the oldest of Europe and many believe that the first presence of Jews in Evia dates back to 586 BC. Around the Synagogue was the Jewish ghetto, the Jewish quarter where most Jews lived until the end of the Ottoman domination.

“On Good Friday in 1854, a great fire broke out which destroyed the biggest part of the Synagogue. Of course it was an arson. Nearly all community archives, books, heirlooms and manuscripts were destroyed. Only three Torah scrolls of the 13th & 14th century have survived until today. The Synagogue was rebuilt in 1855 with the donation of the Dutchess of Plakentia. Luckily today, we do not have any anti-semitic incidents here in our city. We are completely asssimilated.”

The families

“We came from Italy. We were doing business with cornflakes and in italian mais means corn. So we were named after the profession. We left when the persecutions of Ferdinand and Isabella began. We crossed the city of Patras, then Mystras and finally Chalkis. At that time, we were traveling in enormous groups. They did not leave each other back. “

With the annexation of Thessaly to the newly established Greek state, several Jews in Chalkida moved to Volos. There, they found a new dynamic community. The mother of Mr Mair came from this community.

“My mother was Sephardi and she was speaking Ladino. Of course, at our house in Chalkida we only spoke Greek, neither Ladino nor Hebrew.”

He was born in 1935 a few years before the great disaster. His father Solomon was a merchant like most of the Jews at that time.

“Then the Community consisted of about 300 people. All merchants, spinners, craftsmen, etc. The weekly market in Kriezotu street was 90% Jewish. “

When the war broke out, he had only been able to go to school for a few weeks. The Jewish community had its own Jewish school where students were taught all the lessons and additionally the Hebrew language and Jewish religion.

“We were only able to learn about two or three songs and to dig out some scribbles. Nothing else we’ve got. “

The Partisans and the Orthodox Church

“We were almost all saved. With the help of the partisans and of the local Bishop Gregory. Without them we would have followed the others. The Bishop saved Jews whohad been prisoned and hide the Sacraments of the Synagogue in a place of the Central Church.

The partisans mobilized the Jewish families to leave Chalkida and go to the mountains. They were hidden in villages such as Steni and Gides.

“We left before the invasion of Germans. We had already been aware for the incidents in Thessaloniki and Athens, and there was no possibility to follow the same fate. The partisans told us to pick up things and by horses, we went up to the mountains. We were hidden in Steni like many other Jews, although this was extremely dangerous. There we stayed in Christian homes. But we knew these Christians. They have been our customers for so many years, we have had personal contact with them. “

Even the Italian Commander urged them to leave as soon as possible. On March 24, 1944, the Germans announced that all the Jews would gather in the synagogue to give them flour to make the enzymes for their Easter. They opened the door and they only saw Rabbi.

“They believed we would follow Rabbi and stay there. But we had chosen to be mobilized and save ourselves. “

22 Jews were lost from the Chalkida community. But how did they get lost?

“Mainly by German traitors”, Lili Kosti answered to me.

“So they captured my father and his sister. My father stayed in Chalkida to look after his parents who could not move. A Nazi partner betrayed him and caught him immediately. His sister descended from the mountain to take him out and so caught her. We could not leave our families.”

Who were the traitors, I wondered? I asked her to describe me the profile without telling me the name.

“Everything is now publicly available. I can tell you the name if you want. But do not imagine that their traitors and associates were reputable individuals, with family and educated. They were just criminals.”

Jews entered the guerrilla I asked them?

“Of course, havent’t you heard about Sarika?” And I had never heard her.

“17, 5 year old girl. Sarah or else Sarica Geoshoua. At first she entered the guerrilla and helped with chores. She slowly became a leading figure and propagated in the villages to get everyone into the guerrilla. She focused on girls and after a while she got teamed and had her own team of 12 young girl partisans. “

After the end of the Occupation and with the civil war, Sarica was led to the prosecutor. He told the prosecutor, “I am not with either communists or the right side. I went up there to fight the Germans. “The prosecutor released her with the condition of leaving Greece for ever. She left for Israel and never returned to Greece.

After the Occupation

“When we returned we had no bed to sleep, no pots to cook, nor clothes to dress. We went to our house and they were already others. We rented a room in our house to stay the whole family, “says M. Maisis.

America was first helped by the first time. Huge balls with clothes, beds, kitchen utensils, books for children.

“Many left for Athens, others for Thessaloniki because they thought they would find opportunities there. Others fled for Israel. As early as 1944, 160 people of ours had left for Israel. We then had a Chalkidiki lawyer, Sotiris Papastratis. He organized the mission for Israel. Free spirit, democrat. Later, he was honored with the Yad Vashem Prize for the Law of Nations. “

His family had nothing when he turned from the mountain to Chalkida.

“We went with my father to Athens to get some goods and start over again. As soon as he entered the shop and saw him the merchant shouted: Solomon lives! Download and give whatever he wants. “He knew his money was for sure. We had such a relationship of trust between us.”

The community saw a significant reduction in the number of its members. The day-to-day operation of the Jewish school ceases, and the rabbi was stopped in the early sixties.

The current community

“Today we are about 50–60 people. All older in age and we have only 2–3 children. Of course we keep all traditions and customs. We do it as we did before. “

When does the synagogue come to life?

“Every Friday we normally do our Shabbat service. We gather about 20–25 people. For the needs of the function we have a hazzan, that is, a cantor.

But in the great feasts, Ross Ashana, Pesach and Kippur, we bring a rabbi. “

Entering the Synagogue, my eye fell on a shelf with his books. He writes about the history of the Jewish community and the Synagogue and in a few days he will present his second book entitled “The History of the Jewish Community of Halkida since 580 BC. until 2001 The Cemetery. “

“ Do tourists and people visit the place in order to learn more about the Jewish community?” I asked.

“In recent years we have a lot of people to visit us. This month, you are the fourth who comes to learn information. Not just tourists. Many local Halkidians are coming too. “

We are preparing to lock down the Synagogue and go tothe exit where we would say goodbye.

“This year, on the anniversary of the Holocaust on January 27, I went to talk to 7 schools. Halls were filled with 350–400 children and neither one stood up. They first heard about all this. Teachers are now mobilized. If nothing is done through education and school, nothing can be done. “

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How Constantinople changed the Orthodox World

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Soon it will be one month since the Ecumenical Patriarchate reinstated the primates of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC KP) and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) and finally headed for granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church the Tomos of Autocephaly.

This decision has already led to large-scale changes in Ukraine and the Orthodox world. So, what’s happening?

Ukraine: Property redistribution, fighting for the new Church’s Primate chair and uncertainty

The first thing the Ukrainians did was redistributing property. A part of the deal between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Autocephaly was a number of real estate items in the center of Kyiv. As it is rumored, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France visited the country to review the objects; their size and value quite impressed him.

On October 18, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada passed the President’s bill on handing St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Up to that moment the church served as the UAOC’s cathedral but its primate Metropolitan Makarios supported the presidential decision since his organization will be part of the new united Ukrainian Church and he is ready to sacrifice for it.

Meanwhile the UOC KP is getting ready to obtain new real estate items. On October 20, the Synod changed the title of its head: now he will also be the “Holy Archimandrite of the Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavras”, which belong to the UOC MP. On the eve of elections, Filaret seems to demonstrate his supremacy before Makarios and the UOC MP. As it is known, the UOC KP and UAOC are in long-lasting conflict, which escalated since the Tomos will be granted shortly.

The UOC MP certainly is in no haste to recognize Constantinople’s decision: the clergy of a few large eparchies of the Moscow Patriarchate vote for Metropolitan Onufriy and against the Tomos. Met Onufriy openly claims that the Phanar’s actions are uncanonical and calls for defending the faith. Bishops won’t join the new Church without their clergy and dioceses.

For instance, in predominantly anti-Russian Rivne Oblast in western Ukraine, all the clergy and monks unilaterally supported Met. Onufriy.

At a voting by secret ballot in Odessa Diocese, only 3 (!) priests of 406 were against Met Onufriy.

Metropolitan Sofronios of Cherkasy was the only bishop of UOC MP dioceses who openly supported Autocephaly. Cherkasy Diocese’s voting by secret ballot showed that nearly all of the local clergy deprecate the Autocephaly. Facing criticism, Met Sofronios had to publically state that he “won’t join the same Church with Filaret.”

In case Filaret and Makarios don’t reconcile and UOC MP bishops stand aside, the Unification Council will fail. The only result yielded by the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s strategy would be an exarchate and valuable property in the center of Kyiv. But where is the promised unity of the Ukrainian Church?

The world: A schism, the declining authority of the Greek Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Patriarch

The Ecumenical Patriarchate has failed to reach concord in the world Orthodoxy. It is starting to divide into two camps. Despite the cut ties, Moscow couldn’t be isolated: the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Slavic Churches are against Constantinople’s hasty actions on the Ukrainian question and the conflict is expected to be universal.

Such stand-offs can’t foster the positions of the Greek Orthodoxy. Constant quarrels between the Local Churches undermines the authority of the Orthodox Church in the eyes of Roman Catholics and Protestants: the Greek Orthodoxy once again looks ridiculous.

The ambiguous events influencing the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s reputation also added oil to the fire. First, the contents of the confidential talks on August 31 with Patriarch Kirill were leaked. The negotiations were recorded only by Constantinople’s representative, so it couldn’t have been published without prior consent of Patriarch Bartholomew.

The Ecumenical Patriarch is quite aggressive toward the Russian Orthodox Church without presenting grounds for his accusations. Thus, he has recently blamed Moscow for the dissemination of “well-paid articles” and “black propaganda” without clarifying what he meant.

Obviously, scandals like this one and aggression toward other Churches negatively affects Bartholomew’s reputation. Moreover, it looks like the Ecumenical Patriarchate strives not for the Unity of the world Orthodoxy but for its own supremacy over other Churches.

There should be recalled the situation with the “pearl in Constantinople’s crown” – the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA). In summer, some of its influential supporters spoke about independency following the example of Ukraine, but these talks were cut off. Meanwhile, for several months the Phanar has been trying to displace Archbishop Dimitrios. Against the background of the Ukrainian Autocephaly and open war with Moscow, the attempts to restrict the GOA’s independence and kick out its primate look cynical. Otherwise, it can urge the Archdiocese’s clergy and laity to unite for independency.

Relations with the ROC: the future of the ecumenical dialogue in question

The rupture between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate has influenced not only the processes between the two Churches. In cooperation with the ROC, Constantinople conducted active inter-confessional negotiations, but since Moscow refused to take part in them, the future of the relations, first of all with Roman Catholics, are not that promising. Now the talks led by Constantinople won’t be all-Orthodox, and this can be a pretext for predominantly anti-Ecumenical Churches to abandon them.

Besides, the Phanar’s actions will affect the Orthodox Diaspora: without the ROC, the Assemblies of Bishops won’t be that effective, their activity can stall.

At this moment, it’s unclear what awaits us in the future but one thing is obvious: the Orthodox world has changed and it will never be the same. Yes, Constantinople has won in the battle for supremacy becoming “the first without equals.” But the price is too high.

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