Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Jews of Cyprus

The history of the Jews in Cyprus is surprisingly "benign" given the island’s proximity to both Europe and the Holy Land.

The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus was home to a significant Jewish community during the Roman era, and several synagogues were established on the island. However, in 117 C.E., the Cypriot Jews participated in an uprising against the Romans, and, in response, the Romans banned the Jews from the island. The ban was not well-enforced, and the community returned and thrived with little record of any major anti-Semitism.

During the Middle Ages there are records of communities in Famagusta, Nicosia and Paphos. However, after Cyprus became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, the community dwindled and the next recorded Jewish presence did not occur until the island was under British Administration (1878).

In 1883, a large party of Russian Jews created a settlement in Orides near Paphos. Two years later, 27 Romanians arrived on Cyprus, but their settlement failed to thrive. Another colony was attempted, with the support of the Jewish Colonial Association and Ahavat Zion of London in 1897 in the areas of Margo, Kouklia and Cholmakchi. Over two dozen Romanian Jews and their families came, but, as so often happened, these colonists were not properly prepared for the challenges of the land.

The most significant connection of Cyprus to Jewish history is the role the island played n the history of the settlement of Israel. The British saw Cyprus as the perfect solution for “illegal” Jewish immigration. Less than 300 miles away from the Israeli coast, Cyprus became host to an extensive detention center for tens of thousands of Jews fleeing Europe who were stopped from reaching the Land of Israel. Ironically, several hundred Jews who had fled to Cyprus in the 1930s were relocated to Israel and Africa in 1941, before the Cyprus camps were created.

By 1951, there were less than 200 Jews on the island. That number continued to decline until recently, when the Jewish population grew enough through professional relocations to warrant the opening of a Chabad house.

On August 16, 1960, Cyprus declared it's independence.

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