Daily Israel Report

Torah Scrolls Torched By Arsonists In Corfu on Passover

Arsonists broke into Corfu's only synagogue and burned the community's prayer books and Torah scrolls Tuesday morning.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 4/20/2011, 7:53 PM / Last Update: 4/20/2011, 10:22 PM

Arsonists broke into Corfu's only synagogue and burned the community's prayer books and Torah scrolls Tuesday morning.

On Wednesday members of the community, some distraught and weeping, gathered at the synagogue and mourned over the ashes of the Torah scrolls.

Today the Jewish community on Corfu numbers less than 100.

“It’s very difficult for us,” Rabbi Shlomo Naftali, an Israeli rabbi who was flown to Greece to conduct Passover ceremonies. “We stood around the books and cried. Now we’ll have to bury them.”

Former President of the Jewish community of Corfu, Vino Shohi, described the crime, “They came at 3 a.m., put all the books together and burned them. At first I was very upset. I was ashamed that something like this happened here in Corfu, but we have received the support of all the political parties and the archbishop. They all came out in support of us and told us they were our brothers.”

Giorgos Petalotis, a spokesman for the Greek government, condemned the attack Wednesday, saying,, “The burglary that took place in the Jewish Synagogue in Corfu and the destruction of sacred liturgical books is an immoral and appalling act, which the Greek government condemns in the strongest possible manner,”

“I've said before and I say once again," Petalotis said. "Under this unfortunate circumstance, that bigotry and anti-Semitism are concepts incompatible with Greek culture and alien to the mentality of the Greek people. This act cannot overshadow the longstanding tradition of friendship and mutual respect between the two peoples. The Greek authorities have already received instructions to carry out intensive efforts to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice”.

Police on Corfu are investigating the crime. Jewish officials said they had faith the authorities will find the assailants.

“There’s no fear here,” Shoshi said. “There never has been any fear and there never will. We are well-established in Corfu and nobody will make us afraid.”

The Jewish community in Corfu is ancient with roots dating back to antiquity, but most Jews on the island were murdered by the Nazis during the holocaust. The holy books and Torah scrolls survived the holocaust, however, in the hands of gentiles who safeguarded them.

“After the war they gave us all our books back,” Shoshi said. “We had books from the 15th, 16th and 17th century from Trieste, Padova and Verona. Now they are gone.”

The community of Corfu's loss is a loss for the entire Jewish people. The Corfiote Rite is distinct and its liturgy has many peculiarities that set it apart from the mainstream Ashkenazi and Sephardic liturgies most Jews are familiar with today.

Corfiote prayer books, which contain emendations from Mazal-Tob, Isaac ben Abraham, Abraham ben Gabriel ben Mordecai, and Moses ha-Kohen, are rare and unique cultural treasures and were burnt. This, in addition to the destruction of the sacred Torah scrolls.

Joseph ben Abraham, the popular commentator of the Maḥzor, lived in Corfu in 1554.