Heritage and Tradition
Even during the period of the Ottoman Empire the Sephardic Jews retained their Judeo-Spanish idiom (ladino), a language based on the Castilian dialect combined with various implementations of Hebrew, Turkish and Greek words and phrases. The Spanish Jews who arrived in Greece after the inquisition (1492) absorbed the few pre- existing Romaniots (Greek speaking Jews) who inhabited Rhodes and imposed their own dialect in their everyday interactions. The language’s vivid nature is evident both in the verbal usage with the formation of proverbs and anecdotes as well as in the written form with the production of moral passages, biblical analytic texts and poems. The instruction of the ladino language in the community schools largely contributed to the safeguarding and preserving of the dialect throughout the ages.
The Rhodian Jews served as significant carriers of the long lasting Sepharadic heritage since they did not only preserve but also contributed in the perpetuation of the Sephardic tradition. They are largely distinguished by the employment of exceptional “romances“, extended narrative ballads that have survived from the epical Spanish poetry of the 13th century combined with the influence of ottoman sounds. Women commonly sang them while completing their everyday chores without accompanying instruments as well as during special occasions. Other favorable songs include the erotic koplas as well others that contain a religious, moral and satiric element.
It is here on this vast, gently sloping ground stretching fromKoskinou Gate (La Puerta de la Sivdad) to behind the towerof Italy, just beyond the fortifications, that the Jews of Rhodeshave buried their dead for hundreds of years.
That is until 1938,when de Vecchi decided to lay out publicgardens, something which actually never happened. Incompensation for this desecration, the Italian authorities gavethe community a new ground near the Muslim cemetery, onthe road to Kalithea.
Some thousand tombs were transferred from the old to the new cemetery by families that could afford the expense, oftenwith the help of relatives who had emigrated abroad.The oldest of the transferred tombs date from the 1870s.They are situated to the south of the main path through thecemetery. Some twenty or so tombs containing the remainsof Rabbis were transferred and rebuilt at the expense of thecommunity. The bones from other tombs, as well as thosefromtombs in the first small Jewish cemetery of Rhodes,wereinterred in a common grave.
As for the tombstones, after the Italians had removed ahundred or so of the most beautiful for the building of theGovernor’s Palace, the remaining stones were alsotransported to the new cemetery. Owing to their weight andthe bad, weather, the stones gradually sank into the grounduntil they disappeared.
Today, thanks to the interest and assistance of Rhodian Jewish America, many of these tombstones have been unearthedand exposed. Some of them are extremely interesting, bothon account of their form and the inscriptions they bear. Theoldest date from the middle of the 17th century.
The northern part of the cemetery contains roughly 150 graves. These are the graves of people who died in 1938 andsubsequent years, including those of the air raid victimsduring the Second World War. In this part, there is also acommemorative stone bearing the names of Jewish familieswho were deported from Rhodes.
Jewish Community of Rhodes
Simiou & Dossiadou, Medieval Town, 851 00, Rhodes, GREECE
Tel. +30 2241022364, 2241073039 | FAX +30 2241070964
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