Community in Greece - World Jewish Congress

In 2023, around 4,100 Jews were living in Greece. The Greek Jewish community, who is mostly Sephardic but also have a distinct Romani culture, has a long history of maintaining connections with Jews in the Land of Israel. The community of today plays a significant role in both the nation's sociopolitical life and the diaspora.

The Jewish community in Greece is represented by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece – the Greek affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece

+30 1 3244315
+30 210 33 13 852

Elias Frezis

KIS President: David Saltiel

The history of Jews in Greece may date back thousands of years to the Babylonian exile, around 585 to 549 B.C.E. When the Persian king Cyrus the Great allowed the captive Judeans to return home, some reportedly settled in Greece instead. Until around the third century B.C.E., there were only scattered, isolated Jews living in Greek cities. Alexander the Great's conquest of the ancient Kingdom of Judah and the incorporation of the region into his empire coincided with the founding of a long-term Jewish community in Greece. Under his rule, the Jewish communities flourished and many lived a largely Hellenized lifestyle, speaking Greek and not Hebrew. Many Jewish immigrants began settling in Hellenist cities along the Aegean Coast and Greek mainland during this time, and they too became part of a growing class of assimilated, pro-Greek Jews.

Despite such developments, a majority of Jews in Greece retained monotheism. From 167 to 164 B.C.E., the famed Maccabean Revolt, led by Judah Maccabee, led to the defeat of the Greeks and the restoration of Jewish worship at the Second Temple. After the revolt, many Hellenized Jews left Judea for more Hellenistic destinations, such as Alexandria and Antioch. The people in these communities were called “Romaniote” and translated Jewish prayers into Greek. Romaniote communities developed throughout the Byzantine era and became linchpins in various industries throughout Greece.

Many Jews completely assimilated into Greek culture while others attempted to maintain Jewish traditions, such as Hebrew. As a result of violence due to the Crusades, many Ashkenazi Jews from Central Europe arrived in North Greece and found refuge in the city of Thessaloniki. Jewish community life in Greece changed after the Ottomans captured Constantinople, the Byzantine capital, in 1453. The Ottomans ruled under Islamic law, which gave Jews religious and sometimes even legal authority over their communities. As a result of such practices, Greece became a haven for persecuted Jews fleeing the Inquisition. They found that Ottoman Greece was religiously tolerant and extremely welcoming (Ottoman authorities encouraged Jewish immigration because it improved the economy). This signaled the beginning of a Sephardic Jewish presence in Greece.

Greek Jews in the Ottoman Empire were extremely successful, occupying administrative posts and actively developing intellectual and commercial life throughout the region. The arrival of these Jewish refugees also changed the nature of the communities as many of the refugees were leading intellectuals, academics, and scientists. By the end of the 16th century, the community in Thessaloniki (Salonika) attained 30,000 members, equal to half the city's population. At first, there was friction between these new Sephardic arrivals and the already established Romaniot Jews; eventually, as the groups came to accept one another, the Sephardi "Ladino" language became the official language of Greek Jews.

Over successive centuries, Jews from many other countries also moved to Thessaloniki, introducing German, French, Dutch, Egyptian, and Italian Jewish traditions. The Jewish population in Greece continued to live in relative comfort, with sporadic disruptions occurring from time to time, such as when the Ottomans imposed a special tax on the Jewish residents of Greece. More profoundly, the general support of the Ottoman Empire espoused by Greek Jews was seen with disapproval by the Christian Orthodox Greeks. During the Greek War of Independence, thousands of Greek Jews were massacred alongside the Ottoman Turks, with the Jewish communities of Tripoli, Kalamata, and Patras destroyed. Some survivors moved north to lands still ruled by the Ottomans after Greece gained independence in 1832.

Trade routes shifted following the creation of an independent Greek state, and the port of Thessaloniki, formerly a hub for trade and commerce, started to lose significance. This, along with a movement towards the “Hellenization,” acceptance of Greek culture and language, of Jews and other ethnic groups in the late 19th century, saw fortunes negatively change for the Jews of Greece. Dismal trade and forced assimilation saw many Jews begin to leave Greece. Moreover, the establishment of the British Mandate of Palestine after World War I saw many Jews emigrate.

Nonetheless, the Jewish population continued to make up a sizable share of Greek society. There were approximately 50 synagogues spread out across the city of Thessaloniki, where Jews made up more than half of the population. When Greek economic and political life became centered around Athens, many Jews moved there. In 1936, Léon Recanati, a member of the Consistoire Israelite de Grece, represented the Greek Jewish communities at the WJC founding plenary in Geneva. On the eve of the Shoah, over 70,000 Jews lived in Greece and were part of the country’s everyday life and culture.

The Holocaust devastated the Greek Jewish community, and after the war, more than half of the 10,000 Jews who were in Greece when the Axis occupation ended, including the remnants of Macedonian and Thracian communities, made their way to Israel and other countries. Those who remained found themselves engulfed in violence as Greece plunged into civil war from 1946 to 1949. Jews fought on both sides of the conflict, with the British and U.S.-backed Greek government army and the Communist-backed Democratic Army of Greece. When the Greek government army emerged victorious, the supporters of the Communists, including members of the Jewish community, were hard hit by the repression exerted by the government after it had regained control.

Greece was the first European country to return the property confiscated during the Holocaust to its Jewish community, with a 1949 royal decree establishing a foundation for Jewish survivors and their heirs to present claims in court for restitution or compensation. The property of murdered victims was placed into a common fund to aid Greek Jews impoverished by the war.

In recent years, the rise of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn Party, which is represented in the Greek Parliament, has been especially worrying to Greek Jews. Golden Dawn has links to other European parties of the extreme right, espouses an openly antisemitic policy, and engages in Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is legally prohibited in Greece and can incur jail time. The debt crisis in the late 2000s saw a small number of Greek Jews emigrate, but overall the Jewish community in Greece has remained stable.

Today, Greek Jews are well integrated into Greek society, working in various professional occupations and industries. relations between the Jewish community and the state are good, and Judaism is an officially recognized religion.

The years of the Holocaust

At the outbreak of World War II, Greece tried to maintain neutrality but found itself drawn into the conflict after refusing to consent sovereignty to fascist Italy. Jewish soldiers and officers fought in the Greek forces that resisted the Italian and later German invasions of the country, and many of them fell in battle. However, once the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Bulgaria) divided up control of the country, the fate of the Jews was sealed. Those living in the German-controlled zone were subject to the most immediate and terrible threat. The 49,000 members of the community of Thessaloniki fell under German administration, and the community was almost destroyed in the first few months of the occupation.

By the end of 1945, 96.5% of the Jewish community had been murdered in the Nazi death camps in Poland. Less than 2,000 of the 50,000 Jews of pre-war Thessaloniki survived. After Germany took direct control of Athens, the community there was initially shielded by the Italian authorities' reluctance to enact anti-Jewish laws. However, thanks to Chief Rabbi Elijah Barzilai's leadership, who urged Christians to protect Jews by calling on Archbishop Damaskinos, a sizable number of Jews were able to escape or were hidden. The regions of Macedonia and Thrace were placed under Bulgarian administration, however, in stark contrast to the protection that was provided to the Jews in Bulgaria, largely thanks to Bulgarian civil society, the Bulgarian authorities deported the 11,000 Jews in the Greek zone under their control to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Similar deportations were experienced by the Jews of the small communities in the Greek islands, including Rhodes, which were initially under Italian control. In the summer of 1944, after the Germans had replaced the Italians, all the Jews were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz, where nearly all of them perished; many did not even survive the 13-day journey from Piraeus to Auschwitz in sealed cattle wagons. In Rhodes, some 40 Turkish Jews were saved thanks to the heroism of the Turkish Consul Selahettin Ulkumen. In all, some 65,000 Greek Jews were murdered.


Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated that the Greek Jewish community numbered between 4,200 and 6,000 Jews, as of 2000. The majority of Greek Jews live in Athens, followed by Thessaloniki. Jews are also present in Corfu, Chalkis, Ioannina (with the latest Romaniotes), Larissa, Rhodes, Trikala and Volos.

Community Life

The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece acts as the umbrella organization for the nine Jewish communities throughout the country - Athens, Thessaloniki, Larisa, Volos, Corfu, Chalkis, Ioannina, Trikala, and Rhodes – working to ensure that Greek Jews are well represented and accounted for. It also maintains the preservation of a large number of Jewish sites, including those located in areas where none of the Jews survived the Shoah.

The Jewish Cultural Center in Athens serves as the focal point of Jewish life in Greece. Along with events hosted by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, such as its General Assembly, meetings, and elections, the building also serves as a venue for events hosted by other community organizations, including parties, markets, and meetings. The Jewish Cultural Center also holds weekly lectures, seminars, and concerts, among other cultural events. The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki also maintains a cultural center for various events.

Greece is home to numerous international and local Jewish organizations, including the Holocaust Descendants' Association/Jewish Education, B'nai B'rith, Benot Brit, Jewish Charity, the Union of Greek Jewish Veterans of War, and WIZO. There is also the "Saoul Modiano" elderly home in Thessaloniki.

Religious and Cultural life

Greece presently has 10 active synagogues, with numerous rabbis available to Greek Jews who may need their services. They serve the communities of Athens, Thessaloniki, and Laris. In Thission, close to the city center, the Jewish Community of Athens maintains two operational synagogues opposite each other on the same street; one is Romaniote, while the other is Sephardic. In Thessaloniki, three synagogues, one in the Saoul Modiano House, serve the Jewish community.

Kosher Food

Kosher food is available in Greece and is most easily accessible in Athens and Thessaloniki. The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and Chabad, in addition to individual Jewish communities, provides many ways to get kosher food to smaller Jewish communities in the country.

Jewish Education

There are several Jewish day schools available to Greek Jews throughout the country, including in Athens, Thessaloniki, and Larissa. This includes the Lauder Athens Jewish Community School, which combines the educational requirements established by the Greek Ministry of Education, while also establishing a Jewish-oriented curriculum that focuses on Jewish history and Hebrew up until the sixth grade. There are also Jewish preschools in Athens and Thessaloniki. 

The community’s dedication to education is extended to secondary school pupils and students of universities. Students with inadequate means are supported with subsidies and loans and those who excel receive scholarships. Moreover, there is a chair in Jewish Studies at the School of Philosophy and Department of Philology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

In 2013, an agreement was announced in Thessaloniki to establish the Memorial Center on Holocaust Education Remembrance and Research at the city’s old railway station. It was signed by the Thessaloniki Jewish community, the City of Thessaloniki, and the Greek transport ministry.

There are currently no yeshivot or rabbinical studies centers in Greece.


The community in Thessaloniki and Athens runs a youth center that hosts a range of cultural and recreational activities, including dances, outings, congresses, and lectures. Every year, summer camps for the youth are arranged in Thessaloniki. There are functioning Maccabi Clubs, and the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) and World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) are associated with the Union of the Hellenic Jewish Students (ENE).

Jewish Media

There are Jewish newspapers published by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and by the local communities of Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as a quarterly magazine, Chronica.

Information for visitors

The remains of an ancient synagogue were discovered in 1930 in Agora, at the site of “Metroon,” the registry building in ancient Athens. Part of the mosaic floor has been preserved and features an inscribed plaque that depicts a menorah with a lulav, the myrtle branch. Archaeologists estimate that the findings date back to the second century C.E., indicating the existence of an organized community.

The Jewish Museum of Greece is a permanent building located in Athens. One of its exhibitions is devoted to the destruction of the Jewish community during the Shoah. On the island of Rhodes, there is also a Jewish museum close to the Kahal Shalom synagogue, open to the public for its architectural interest.

The vast Jewish cemetery in Thessaloniki was destroyed and today the city's university sits atop the ancient Jewish burial ground. In 1997, a monument to commemorate Thessaloniki's murdered Jews was erected in the center of that city.

The Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki was established in 2001, in an old commercial arcade that belongs to the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and has been renovated by funds of the Thessaloniki Cultural Capital of Europe 1997. The main task of the museum is to collect documents and heirlooms that survived the Holocaust, to preserve the remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust, and to encourage research about the continuous presence of the Jews in Thessaloniki that goes back more than 2,000 years.

In 2002, the Municipality of Rhodes approved the establishment of the Monument of the Victims of the Holocaust in the Jewish Martyrs Square, in the same place where the Jewish Quarter used to be. The Jewish cemetery of the island is still preserved. Each year in July a pilgrimage of “Rhodesli” (the Jews of Rhodes) is organized to commemorate the deportation of the Jews of the island. During the pilgrimage, the descendants of the Rhodelsi celebrate in La Judería de Rodas with bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, and concerts performed in Ladino, Yiddish, and Hebrew.

Relations with Israel

Full diplomatic relations between Greece and Israel were established in 1991. In August 2010, Israeli PM Netanyahu became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Greece officially. In January 2015, a tripartite agreement was announced including Cyprus to build a gas pipeline to export natural gas to Europe, part of a growing trilateral alliance between the three countries.

Embassy of Israel in Greece
1 Marathonodromon str.
154 52 P. Psychiko
Athens, Greece

Telephone: (0030) 210-6705500
Fax: (0030) 210-6705555

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