Greek Jews angered by request not to hold services in synagogue

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

In 1944, the 300 Jews living in Hania were being deported to Auschwitz when an Allied bomb sunk the transport ship. They all died. Their deaths ended a Jewish presence on Crete for more than 2,000 years.

Moses Constantinis, president of the Jewish board, reacted angrily to the letter from Katsanevakis and immediately replied that the religious portion of the dedication ceremonies would never be canceled.

In his letter, Katsanevakis said he did not object to the restoration of the synagogue — only to religious services there.

He cited a 1938 law that a house of worship cannot operate unless there are 50 worshippers. Katsanevakis wrote the letter in response to an invitation from the Jewish board to attend the ceremonies.

In an interview with a local television station, Constantinis described the law as "fascist," noting that it was created during the reign of dictator John Metaxa.

Hania's Bishop Irineos, who sided with Katsanevakis in opposing the services, contacted the Ministry of Religion and Education to enlist its support in their cause.

But Religion Minister Gerassimos Arsenis backed the Jewish community and sent a warm message that he asked be read during the dedication ceremonies. The event went ahead with the participation of Greek officials and Jewish communal leaders from Greece, the United States, Europe and Israel.

On Saturday, Torah scrolls were installed in the synagogue as part of Shabbat services. The next day, the official opening was held. It included a service in memory of the Jews of Crete.