History of the Jews in Cyprus
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The history of the Jews in Cyprus dates back to the 3rd century BCE, after trade relations had been established between Cyprus and the Land of Israel. The Jews had close relationships with many of the other religious groups on the island and were seen favourably by the Romans. During the war over the city of Ptolemais between Alexander Jannaeus and Ptolemy IX Lathyros, King of Cyprus, many Jews were killed. During the war the Jewish citizens remained committed in their allegiance to King Lathyros.
Jewish rebellions and Byzantine rule
The Jews lived well in Cyprus during the Roman rule. During this period, Christianity was preached in Cyprus among the Jews at an early date, St Paul being the first, and Barnabas, a native of Cyprus, the second. They attempted to convert the Jews to Christianity under the ideas of Jesus. Under the leadership of Artemion, the Cypriot Jews participated in the great rebellion against the Romans ruled by Trajan in 117 CE. and they are reported by Dio Cassius to have massacred 240,000 Greeks. In punishment a severe law was enacted, according to which no Jew was allowed to land on Cypriot soil, not even in case of shipwreck. After a few years of calm, the Jewish communities began to grow and thrive once again in Cyprus. In 610, however, the Jews again participated in the uprising against the Greeks under the rule of Heraclius. In 646, and again in 1154, Cyprus was devastated by the Arabs.
Latin Era (1191-1571)
Jewish merchants were active during this time at the port city of Famagusta.
Ottoman Era (1571-1878)
Cyprus was conquered by the Ottoman Empire after their war with Venice. During Ottoman rule the Jewish community of Cyprus thrived due to the influx of Sephardi Jews from Ottoman lands, who had emigrated en masse to the Ottoman territories after expulsion from Spain in 1492. Famagusta became the main center of the Ottoman Jewish community in Cyprus.
Ottoman rule lasted until 1878, when Cyprus came under British rule.
During the last twenty years of the 19th century, several attempts were made to settle Russian and Romanian Jewish refugees in Cyprus. The first attempt, in 1883, was a settlement of several hundred Russians established in Orides near Papho. In 1885, 27 Romanian families settled on the island as colonists but were not successful in forming communities. Romanian Jews in 1891, again bought land in Cyprus, even though they did not immigrate to the country.
Fifteen Russian families under the leadership of Walter Cohen founded a colony in the year 1897 at Margo, with the help of the Ahawat Zion of London and the Jewish Colonisation Association. In 1899, Davis Trietsch, a delegate to the Third Zionist Congress at Basel, in August 1899, attempted to get an endorsement for Jewish colonisation in Cyprus, especially for Romanian Jews. Although, his proposal was refused by the council; Trietsch persisted, convincing two dozen Romanian Jews to immigrate to the land. Twenty-eight Romanian families followed these and received assistance from the Jewish Colonization Association. These settlers established farms at Margo, and at Asheriton. The Jewish Colonisation Association continued to give a small support to the work in Cyprus. Most Jewish communities during the early 1900s (decade) were located in Nicosia. In 1901, the Jewish population of the island was 63 men and 56 women. In 1902, Theodore Herzl presented in a pamphlet to the Parliamentary committee on alien immigration in London, bearing the title "The Problem of Jewish Immigration to England and the United States Solved by Furthering the Jewish Colonisation of Cyprus."
During World War II and the Holocaust, Cyprus played a major role for the Jewish communities of Europe. After the rise of Nazism in 1933, hundreds of Jews escaped to Cyprus. Following the liquidation of the concentration camps of Europe, the British set up a detention camp in Cyprus for Holocaust survivors illegally trying to enter Palestine. From 1946 until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the British confined 50,000 Jewish refugees on the island. Once the State of Israel was created, most of the refugees made aliyah. 2,000 babies were born on the island as they waited to enter Israel.
Israel has had diplomatic relations with Cyprus since Israel’s independence in 1948, when Cyprus was a British protectorate. Israel and Cyprus’ associations have continued to expand since 1960, the year of Cyprus’ independence.
On September 12, 2005 Rabbi Raskin was formally nominated as the official Rabbi of Cyprus in a ceremony in which guests such as then-Israeli Ambassador, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of the Lubavitch educational division at Lubavitch World Headquarters, the Cypriot Education and Culture minister, and Larnaca’s deputy mayor Alexis Michaelides. Others included members of the Cypriot government, Politicians, Diplomats and other prominent members of the local community.
Some 350 Jewish families live in Cyprus today, many of whom are foreign citizens residing in the country for business purposes. Half of them are Israelis, the rest are mostly British or Russians.
- The Jewish Virtual Library
- Rabbinate of Cyprus (chiefly in Hebrew and English)
- Bibliography on the Jews of Cyprus (chiefly in Hebrew and English)