14 years. They’ve been awesome years, but it’s still been 14 years since Josh and I have gone away by ourselves for more than one night. We’ve jumped through hoops here and there to escape the chaos for a few hours when a child was done nursing and the next one hadn’t yet arrived.
But a real vacation? That we haven’t taken in a very long time. And so we cooked up an idea to get away for a real vacation – one that would involve a plane ride, luggage and a good book. Josh secured a daring young Sherut Leumi (National Service) girl from his office who actually suggested that we go away so that she could watch the kids.
Miracles do exist.
And off we went. We set our sights on Rhodes. To tell the truth, it really didn’t matter where we went – as long as there was water, relaxation and no children named Sussman. Rhodes was just the place that the travel agent suggested, and we were ready.
It was a beautiful, fantastic, and much-needed get-away. Of course, whenever we are away, we seek out the Jewish heritage in the location where we’ve arrived, and Rhodes has an interesting history all its own.
Jews have had a presence in Rhodes for 2300 years. The synagogue that we visited, the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, has been there since 1577. It is the oldest surviving synagogue building in Greece. While there were four synagogues on the island in 1940, this was the only one that survived the intense bombing of the island during the war.
In 1943, the Germans took control of Rhodes and by 1944, all of the 1676 Jews were deported to camps, mostly Auschwitz. Only about 151 survived the war and virtually everyone went elsewhere to rebuild their lives.
The synagogue and the museum within it were made possible through the efforts of the Rhodes Jewish Historical Foundation, a nonprofit created by Los Angeles lawyer Aron Hasson whose grandparents were all from Rhodes. The work that Hasson has been doing is amazing, and is well worth applause and further reading.
|Flash wasn’t cooperating but this is the inside of the synagogue.
While we were admiring the beautifully restored building of the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, we started talking to an older man who worked there. Within minutes he had shown us his number, tattooed on his arm. He apologized for not having better English skills (meanwhile, he explained that he was fluent in Ladino, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, French and German). He said that he was the one and only Jew who returned from Auschwitz to remake his life in Rhodes. He had been there ever since, and was now working in the museum to tell his history to those who were interested.
|The Holocaust survivor is seated in the picture.
“Where are your children?” I asked.
He looked to the sky. Oh dear, was he really answering my question?
And he explained that after the war, the camp had left him with problems and that the children that he had all died.
We thanked him for his time and shuffled off, feeling richer for knowing a bit of his story, but certainly sadder for learning another piece of our terrible history.
As we moved through the museum, we learned some amazing things. As the Germans took over Rhodes, the Jews in this synagogue secretly turned over their sifrei torah to the Turkish religious leader at the time, the Grand Mufti of Rhodes. This man, Seyh Suleyman Kaslioglu, hid the torah scrolls in the pulpit of his mosque that was located in the new city of Rhodes.
After the war, the scrolls were safely returned to the survivors and are in the synagogue to this day. In 1971, while talking to a Jewish friend, the Grand Mufti said, “One of the greatest moments of my life was when I was able to embrace the Torah and carry it and put it in the pulpit of the mosque because we knew that no German would ever think that the Torahs were preserved in the pulpit of the mosque.”
Certainly, we had a lovely time in Rhodes. We saw many stunning castles, swam in gorgeously dazzling blue waters, took long walks along the beach and rested.
But the moments in the shul and with the survivor will stand out as we return to life in Israel and to the job of raising our six proud, Jewish children.
And yes, the kids did just fine without us. We came home to see the well documented fun they had while we were away. Hmmm…..