In another strong sign of the warming of ties between Israel and the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, President of the Republic of Cyprus, inaugurated a photo and video exhibition at Park East Synagogue in New York City this week entitled “Jewish Refugees in Cyprus en Route to Israel.”

In President Anastasiades’ warm keynote speech, he announced that “relations between our two countries have entered into their brightest stage.”

President Anastasiades was visiting New York City to attend the United Nations’ General Assembly this week and stopped by Park East Synagogue for the photo exhibit’s ribbon cutting and reception. Along with Rabbi Schneier, Hon. Ido Aharoni, the Israeli Consul General, and Hon. Vasilios Philippou, the Cypriot Consul General planned and supported the event.

Relations between Greece, Cyprus and Israel have significantly warmed up since the discovery of significant oil and gas deposits in the Levant Basin in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea between Israel and Cyprus.

On September 5, 2011, Greece and Israel signed a “security cooperation agreement.”

While Greece is a member of NATO, it is to some degree still threatened by Turkey which is also a NATO country, and which invaded the Northern part of Cyprus in 1974. The Greece/Turkey schism over Cyprus remains an open source of contention between the two NATO signatories up until today. This simmering feud, along with Turkey’s islamist government, make Israel an even greater strategic value to Greece, and to Europe.

Participation of Cypriot community

The world-renown Rabbi Schneier of Park East Synagogue welcomed not only President Anastasiades, but also Archbishop Demetrious of America, who is the current Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Exarch of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Archbishop Demetrious read a beautiful psalm of David at the ceremony. In fact, what was most interesting and refreshing about this event was the degree to which the American Cypriot community participated, attended, and supported it. Hundreds of Greek Cypriots came and three national Hellenic and Cypriot organizations cooperated in supporting the photo exhibition.

Rabbi Schneier was as gracious as always, and directed Anastasiades to the same chair in which Rabbi Schneier had “sat Pope Benedict the XIV” when Park East Synagogue was the first American synagogue to host a serving pope.

In light of the coming Jewish High Holidays, Rabbi Schneier presented President Anastasiades with a shofar, or ceremonial ram’s horn, which is blown on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

But, perhaps the most beautiful moment came early in the ceremony where the Park East Hebrew Day School Choir opened the event in Greek with “Hymn to Liberty,” or “Ýmnos is tin Eleftherían,” the Cyprus national anthem, which also happens to be the Greek national anthem. After hearing the children’s beautiful rendition, Rabbi Schneier remarked, “we teach our children to love,” and “these children will remember the Cyprus National Anthem for all their lives.”

The 'vibrant' camps

In Anastasiades’ keynote speech, he traced the history of Cyprus’ assistance to Jews making their way from post-World War II Holocaust Europe to the newly-born State of Israel. He recounted how the 52,000 Jews interned by the British in Cyprus after being prevented from making aliyah “turned the camps into vibrant communities.” And, “It was recorded that 2,200 [Jewish] children were born in the camps.” The last of the Cyprus-stranded Jewish refugees made it to Israel on February 10, 1949, “267 days after the establishment of the State of Israel.”

Anastasiades then traced the historic bonds between the Jews of Israel and the Greeks of Cyprus from the Hellenistic period through Roman times to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. In announcing Prime Minister binyamin Netanyahu would be making a state visit to Cyprus soon, President Anastasiades reiterated that “personally, I will spare no effort and initiative... to substantially and strategically upgrade our relations in all possible fields for our mutual benefit.”

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi rounded out the evening by opening the well-stocked reception, and cutting the cake with Rabbi Schneier and President Anastasiades.

Hopefully, the enthusiasm of the President of Cyprus, and the attending pro-Israel Americans, will help reverse the otherwise cooling support for Israel in Europe.

Levant Basin populations
Levant Basin populationsMark Langfan