OPENING SPEECH

OPENING SPEECH

The world inherited after the passing of Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C was a world changed.

A new world with almost endless horizons that cradled whole civilizations, people, cultures, religions. Borders such as city-states were something of the past.

At this moment we find in Greece the oldest so far reference to Jews, the Hellenized Jews, the Romaniot Jews! We still find such synagogues in Greece the Romaniote synagogue of Crete, Trikala and Ioannina.

During the period of the Ptolemies the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew / Aramaic into Alexandrian Elliniki Kini… Greek.

From that moment onwards these 2 ancient peoples Hellenes and Jews together carried their ancient Heritage, through language, culture, music, cuisine, a system of beliefs setting the foundations of what we later refer to as the European Civilization.

For these 2 peoples mapped the celestial constellations, mapped the sea and dessert, mapped and paved the road to God, wanderers, musicians, philosophers, prophets, great thinkers, heroes, reformers, refugees and survivors.

For we both as people Hellenes and Jews witnessed the world of Alexander the Great as well as the arrival rise and fall of the world of Rome, the establishment of the Eastern Roman Empire the Byzantine empire, the rise of the Arabs, the Crusaders and conquest of the Holly lands, the Winged lion of St.Marcus as well as its retreat in the Mediterranean while the Sultan and Ottoman Empire emerged, by this time already the Ladino / shephardi Jews have settled in Greece and their contribution to the economical and social development of Greece cannot be overlooked…and finally also the WW2 (can we forget Thessaloniki?)

Is this not the history of Europe?

These 2 peoples have seen and witnessed what shaped European identity and history.

These 2 peoples harboured their ancient Heritage and identity for more than 2500 years through their language, culture and their longing for freedom and homeland.

Diaspora, trade, travelling, commerce we have been doing this for the longest time…

We should keep doing what we do best… ponder, travel, explore, trade, celebrate what we have accomplished, remember what we have endured… for this long long history of such Ancient Heritage was never a light burden …

During the Second World War and occupation of Athens, the Jewish community numbered 3.500… 66 percent of the Jews of Athens were saved as the head Rabbi Elias Barzelai, the Archbishop Damaskinos and chief of Police Angelos Evert issued false identification cards.

Archbishop Damaskinos and Evert are honoured at Yad Vashem.

The archbishop Damaskinos had sent a letter composed by the famous Greek poet Angelos Sikelianos including the Biblical quote “There is neither Jew or Greek” protesting to the deportation of the Greek Jews.

On the island of Zakynthos the bishop Chrysostomos and mayor Loukas when asked at gun point to hand over the names of the Jews, the only names that were handed were the mayors’ and bishops’!

The bishop told the Germans if you choose to deport the Jews of Zakynthos you must also take me, and I will share their fate.

Yad Vashem recognised them as “Righteous Among the Nations”

Our and your contribution in today’s world and economy is still in the making let us forge it even stronger, let us embark on one more journey, this time through calmer waters and unclouded skies…

Thank you