North Cyprus: A new Jewish outpost

Tracing the Tribe is always looking for news of Jewish life in off-the-beaten-track locations. North Cyprus seems the newest edition to this list, as Chabad has opened the area’s first Jewish center where more than 100 Jews have moved in recent years.

We traveled to Cyprus two years ago and had an excellent visit which we hope to repeat. It is a very short flight from Tel Aviv and visitors to Israel should consider adding on a Cyprus segment. We drove all over the beautiful island from the sea to the mountains and were very impressed by the friendly people we met. English is widely spoken because of the island’s long-time British connections.

Rabbi Chaim and Devora Azimov moved to Kyrenia in March 2008 to open the center which is near major hotels. Their opening Passover Seder attracted 45 participants. Chabad-Lubavitch of North Cyprus hosts a Jewish preschool and weekly Shabbat services, individualized study sessions, visit hospitals and prisons, lead adult education classes, and ensure a reliable supply of kosher food to the community and Jewish tourists.

In a 2008 article, the rabbi estimated that some 200-300 Jewish people live in the area, and that on any given weekend more than 2,000 Israeli tourists pass through, as well as tourists from the UK, US and other countries.

Last week’s crowded Rosh Hashanah service was very special, according to Devorah Azimov:

“A woman living here for 24 years, who had no connection to Jewish life, came to High Holiday services for the first time.”

How does Cyprus figure into Jewish history? Readers may be surprised to learn about the long and important Jewish connection.

Jews lived on the island before and during Roman rule, with Cypriot Jews reported to have taken part in the great rebellion against Trajan’s Rome in 117 C.E.

Ancient synagogues are known to have existed in Lapta and Salamis, and by the late Middle Ages, Jewish communities had developed in Lefkoşa, Paphos and Gazi Mağusa.

In the later part of the 19th century, several attempts were made to settle Russian and Romanian Jewish refugees in Cyprus. Fifteen Russian families under the leadership of Walter Cohen founded a colony in 1897 at Margo, south of Ercan. The abandoned village is now within a Turkish military zone, but a synagogue and Jewish cemetery remain.

During the Second World War, the island served as a haven for hundreds of Jews fleeing Europe. Following the liberation of the concentration camps on the continent, British forces set up a refugee camp in Pile, north of the present-day Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area, for Holocaust survivors and others attempting to enter the Holy Land.

The island and its viticulture is even mentioned in the Talmud:

In a discussion about the incense brought in the Holy Temple, yayin kafrisin is mentioned as a necessary commodity; incense producers would soak the Onycha spice in Cypriot wine to make it more pungent.

Kosher wine is being made on Cyprus at the Lambouri Winery from local Mavro grapes. Read more about the wine here.

Read the complete articles at the links above.

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