Fire strikes Crete synagogue for second time

ATHENS, Greece (JTA) — The only synagogue on the Greek island of Crete may have suffered its second arson attack in less than two weeks.

A fire early Saturday morning at the Etz Hayyim synagogue in the city of Hania destroyed the wooden roof of the building as well as scores of books. 

The fire brigade investigating the cause has not ruled out arson. Etz Hayyim was seriously damaged in a Jan. 5 arson attack.

In the second incident, two fire engines and five firefighters took two hours to control the blaze. The damage was estimated at $43,000.

Synagogue director Nikos Stavroulakis said that four computers, as well as 300 CDs and cassette tapes of Jewish music, also were destroyed.

In the Jan. 5 attack, some 30 antique Turkish carpets and the synagogue’s extensive library were destroyed. The arsonists reportedly climbed over the synagogue’s iron gate and made an improvised firebomb using stuffing from a couch in the synagogue’s mikveh to ignite a canister filled with flammable liquid.

Until its rededication in 1999 following a three-year restoration project, Etz Hayyim was a desecrated house of prayer following the destruction of Crete’s Jewish community in 1944 by the Nazis.

The Jews of Crete are first mentioned in the Second Maccabees. Hania came into prominence during Hellenistic times, attracting artisans and technicians from Alexandria. It is likely that the members of the early Jewish community there were originally from Egypt.

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