January 17, 2009 -- New York -- AJC is outraged by this morning’s arson attack that severely damaged Etz Hayim, the only synagogue on the Greek island of Crete. It was the second arson attack on the historic building in ten days.
“Our hearts go out to the Greek Jewish community,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “To target such a house of worship not once, but twice, within days of each other requires a swift public response from all in Greece who believe in the principles of religious freedom and mutual respect.”
Today’s blaze severely damaged or destroyed Jewish ritual objects and religious books, as well as the synagogue’s roof. The earlier arson attack, on January 5, destroyed the synagogue’s library.
Nearly 90 percent of Greek Jewry was murdered by the Nazis in World War II. Greece’s Jewish population today is only 5,000. After the Nazis destroyed the Crete Jewish community in 1944, Etz Hayyim stood empty and neglected for decades. A restoration project commenced in 1996, and the synagogue was rededicated in 1999.
“We count on Greek Prime Minister Papandreou and his government to do everything possible to apprehend the arsonists and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” said Harris. “The protection of all Jewish institutions in Greece must become a still higher priority in light of recent events. That attackers could strike the same target twice in ten days reveals the shortcomings of the security in place.”
AJC and the Greek Jewish community have had an association agreement for many years.