Building Columns: Supporting Jewish Learning in Greece

The Athens Jewish Community School is the city’s only Jewish elementary school. (Photo: Gavin Rabinowitz/JTA)

by Ellen Yarrow – Associate Director, Israel & Overseas

During World War II, Greece was conquered by Nazi Germany and occupied by the Axis powers. 12,898 Greek Jews fought in the Greek army against these forces. Some 60,000-70,000 Greek Jews, especially those in the areas occupied by Nazi Germany and Bulgaria, or at least 81% of the country’s Jewish population, were murdered and most of their sixty synagogues and schools were destroyed. Only 1,950 people survived. Today the Jewish population of Greece numbers roughly 5,000 people. Most of the Jews reside in the capital city of Athens. But Greece’s economic crisis has wrought havoc on the country’s middle class, rattling the foundations upon which Jewish communal institutions stand. A once-prosperous Jewish community is facing difficult times and many fear that harder times are yet to come.

Preserving Jewish Heritage

70%

Percentage of Jewish children in Athens who attend the school

The Athens Jewish Community School is the only school Jewish school in Athens and is currently fighting to survive and meet the responsibility of preserving Jewish heritage in Greece. It is a private Jewish day school and has recently celebrated 50 years of high quality Jewish education. It has an enrollment rate of 70% of Athens’ Jewish children, a penetration rate that would be the envy of any Jewish community. The school’s success has been the result of heavy educational investments, an aggressive recruiting strategy, significant community subsidies, comprehensive busing and an open-minded enrollment policy for children of intermarried families. More than 1,000 pupils have graduated from the school and many give back to the community by becoming responsible and highly active members with strong ties and roots to their Jewish heritage and community.

The school offers all the subjects taught in Greek schools, according to the curriculum of the Greek Ministry of Education, as well as Hebrew and Jewish history. After finishing the sixth grade, the pupils continue their education in Greek public or private schools. The concept is simple: To get as many children as possible to attend the school by providing top-notch private education and the chance to discover their Greek–Jewish identity within modern facilities and a warm environment — at an affordable price.

But the school is now in peril as Greek Jews struggle through the economic and political turmoil in Greece. Community members believe that shutting the school down would be an ominous development for the capital’s community of some 3,000 Jews. “This school is the Athens Jewish community and its future,” said Alvertos Taraboulous, the current Chairman of the school board.

The Montreal community does its part

In fulfilling our global Jewish commitment, Federation CJA has a responsibility to strengthen Jews around the world. In respecting the ongoing work and achievements of the Athens Jewish Community School, we are providing funds to support the schools’ sustainability and to ease its operational vulnerability in view of the increased demand for services and the desire to ensure quality and access. This is essential to creating a sustainable and vibrant future in Greece and for us all. The goal is to assist the vibrant Athens Jewish community by providing funding for their Jewish day school to ease the impact of the economic crisis affecting the community. We wish to help to strengthen the school to ensure efficient, effective service to the students and to allow more students to receive a Jewish education.

A thank you message from the President of the
Jewish Community of Athens

“The Jewish community of Athens is very thankful for the solidarity that Montreal has shown towards the Greek Jewry in the current difficult circumstances. Throughout the years, our small community has succeeded in keeping strong ties amongst its members and other Jewish communities, enhancing many Jewish activities, and keeping a close relationship and support towards Israel. As the current economic crisis has affected our community (organizations and members), we very much appreciate your support that represents a very significant contribution to our effort to continue our activities. Our school is the jewel of our community and tries hard to keep it in a high standard from every point of view. You contribution will secure it.”

- Dr. Benjamin Albabas
President of the Jewish Community of Athens

This year, Federation CJA allocated $6.5 million to our Israel and overseas agenda, doing our part for world Jewry.

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