In the Greek capital, a small but determined Jewish population strives to uphold a tradition dating back over 2000 years. In the context of austerity and political change, young Jewish Greeks have a new wave of problems to contend with; yet despite a growing trend of emigration, the city hosts an active youth contingent – including the rabbi of the Athens Jewish Community, just 26 years old.
Syntagma Square, the site of much of the recent upheaval in the centre of Athens, is surprisingly quiet this Thursday morning. Here I meet Dimi, who has agreed to show me the city’s Jewish landmarks. Born in Israel to a French-Greek mother and a Greek father, Dimi moved to Athens at age seven. Now 24, he’s lived in Italy since 2011.
It’s February, but the Mediterranean sun beats down on the ruins of the Parthenon, built in the 4th century BC. Less than 100 years later, the first Romaniote Jews came to Greece. Nowadays, it’s Sephardic Jews, who fled to Greece during the Spanish Inquisition, who dominate the Athens community.
Life before and after
As we move away from the Acropolis, the tavernas and souvenir stalls become less frequent. Here, the city placed its Star of David-shaped Holocaust memorial, only inaugurated in 2011. “Finally,” Dimi laments. Athens was the last EU capital to formally commemorate the Holocaust, which killed an estimated 87% of the country’s Jews.