26 May 2023

A new Torah scroll honours scholar
who saved the synagogue in Crete

Etz Hayyim Synagogue stands in a small alley off Kondhilaki Streer in Evraiki or the former Jewish quarter in the old town of Chania (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot or Shavuos (שָׁבוּעוֹת‎, ‘Weeks’) began this year at sunset yesterday (Thursday 25 May 2023), and ends at sundown tomorrow (Saturday 27 May 2023).

The Feast of Weeks is sometimes referred to as Pentecost (Πεντηκοστή) because of its timing 50 days after the first day of Passover.

This Jewish holiday occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. In the Bible, Shavuot marks the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel (see Exodus 34: 22) and, according to the Jewish Sages, it also commemorates the anniversary of the giving of the Torah by God at Mount Sinai.

The word Shavuot means ‘weeks’ and it marks the conclusion of the seven-week Counting of the Omer, beginning on the second day of Passover and followed immediately by Shavuot. This counting of days and weeks is understood to express anticipation and desire for the giving of the Torah.

Thursday evening (25 May 2021) was the beginning of Shavuot, when the memorial prayer ‘Father of compassion’ (אב הרחמים‎, Av Harachamim) is said in many synagogues and congregations.

A new Sefer Torah or Torah scroll in memory of Nikos Stavroulakis is being inaugurated at a number events in the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania over these few days.

Nicholas Peter Stavroulakis, or Peter Stavis (1932-2017), was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to immigrant parents: his Jewish mother Annie was from Turkey and his Greek Orthodox father Petros was from Crete. Nikos moved to Chania in 1994, and was the driving force behind restoring the synagogue of Etz Hayyim, which had been in ruins since World War II.

The Erev Shavuot Evening Service yesterday (Thursday 25 May 2023) was followed by a Leil Limud evening discussion on the topic ‘Elonei Mamre. The Encounter of Judaism and Orthodox Christianity.’ This involved a conversation between Etz Hayyim’s visiting rabbi, Rabbi Nicholas de Lange, and Father John Raffan of the Archdiocese of Athens.

Professor Nicholas de Lange is a Reform rabbi and historian, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Cambridge, and an emeritus fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge. He has lectured on Modern Judaism and the Reading of Jewish texts at the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge. His research programmes have included Mapping the Jewish Communities of the Byzantine Empire.

He has written and edited several books about Judaism and translated numerous works of fiction by Amos Oz, S Yizhar and AB Yehoshua into English. He received the Risa Domb/Porjes Prize for Translation from the Hebrew in 2007 for his translation of A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz.

To mark the first day of Shavout today, Rabbi Nicholas de Lange officiated at the Morning Service Etz Hayyim Synagogue, and is officiating at the Erev Shabbat service this evening. Later this evening, the Leil Limud is with Professor Geoffrey Khan, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge since 2012.

The new Sefer Torah is being inaugurated tomorrow morning (Saturday, 27 May 2023). The programme includes a welcome from Vassiliki Yiakoumaki, President of the Board of Trustees of oration Etz Hayyim, the Shabbat and Second Day of Shavuot Morning Service, officiated at by Etz Hayyim’s Visiting Rabbi Nicholas de Lange, and the Sefer ceremony and reading, officiated at by Rabbi Nicholas de Lange.

Other speakers tomorrow include David Saltiel, President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, Victor Eliezer, Secretary General of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, and Lior Asher and Ahouva Amar, the main organisers of fundraising for the new Sefer.

Later in the day, a reception in synagogue courtyard and guided tours in the afternoon of Etz Hayyim Synagogue and the historic Jewish Quarter in Chania. A reading of the Book of Ruth in the evening is followed by Havdalah and a musical performance by Marty Eisenstein.

The annual memorial service for the victims of the Tanais sinking takes place at the Tanais Memorial in Koum Kapi at noon on Sunday (28 May 2023). This is followed by a memorial service for the Cretan Jewish Community at Etz Hayyim Synagogue, with Rabbi Gabriel Negrin officiating.

The Aron haKodesh or Ark in the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania … a new Sefer Torah is being inaugurated this weekend in memory of Nikos Stavroulakis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘Father of compassion’ (אב הרחמים‎, Av Harachamim):

Father of compassion, who dwells on high:
may he remember in his compassion
the pious, the upright and the blameless –
holy communities who sacrificed their lives
for the sanctification of God’s name.

Lovely and pleasant in their lives,
in death they were not parted.

They were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions
to do the will of their Maker,
and the desire of their Creator.

O our God, remember them for good
with the other righteous of the world,
and may he exact retribution for the shed blood of his servants,
as it is written in the Torah of Moses, the man of God:

‘O nations, acclaim his people,
wreak vengeance on his foes,
and make clean his people’s land.’

And by your servants, the prophets, it is written:
‘I shall cleanse their which I have not yet cleansed,
says the Lord who dwells in Zion.’

And in the Holy Writings it says:
‘Why should the nations say: Where is their God?
Before our eyes, may those nations know
that you avenge the shed blood of your servants.’

And it also says:
‘For the Avenger of blood remembers them
and does not forget the cry of the afflicted.’

And it further says:
‘He will execute judgment among the nations,
heaping up the dead,
crushing the rulers far and wide.
From the brook by the wayside he will drink,
then he will hold his head high.’

Chag Shavuot Sameach

Shabbat Shalom

Nikos Stavroulakis was the driving force behind restoring the synagogue of Etz Hayyim in Chania

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