Synagogues Without Jews: see photos. "Veroia's Jewish community and that of the major port city, Salonika, were mutually influenced by their relative proximity, only one day's journey apart. The big-city folk appreciated the cool, clear summer air, the fertile orchards and vineyards of Veroia, whereas times of conflict, from as far back as the first century C.E. and well into the twentieth century, sent Veroia Jews scurrying to Salonika for safety.
The waves of religious ferment that overwhelmed and influenced the Jewish, Christian and Moslem worlds left their mark on the community. Paul of Tarsus fled to Veroia after arousing the fierce anger of the Jewish elders in Salonika by preaching Christianity in the synagogue there, but he succeeded better in Veroia despite the efforts of the Salonika elders to neutralize his influence.
A later threat to Jewish life in Veroia was the 15th century victory of the Ottoman Turks over the Byzantines and the rebuilding of the capital city, Constantinople. Sultan Mehmet II conscripted Greeks and Jews, including a large number from Veroia, to help rebuild the capital. Jews expelled from Spain took their place by the end of the century, but they added to the social instability of the Veroia kehillah. Thus, Spanish replaced Greek as market place and synagogue language; the Iberian minhag (tradition) replaced the ancient Romaniot liturgy.
Yet, the upheaval had economic advantages. The immigrants brought new techniques for processing wool in the rapidly expanding textile industry. Indeed, partly relocated to Veroia in the 16th century, textiles became the economic mainstay of the kehillah. Under competition at the beginning of the 17th century, textiles declined, but the enterprising Jews of Veroia developed a dairy industry, producing cheese and marketing it at regional fairs.
The Jews of Veroia, along with those of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, suffered the 17th century trauma of the false messiah, Shabbatai Zvi and his "prophet," Nathan of Gaza. In messianic frenzy, ordinarily astute merchants, community leaders and Tamudic scholars sold possessions to finance joining the Messiah. Millenarian Christians in Germany, England and Holland who awaited the second coming of Jesus in the year 1666 encouraged this. That year, Shabbatai Zvi and his followers, imprisoned by the Sultan and forced to choose between conversion and death. Shabbatai Zvi converted Islam and was promptly followed by his closest disciples.
Among the many followers who couldn't bear to relinquish the hope of immediate redemption was Nathan of Gaza. He established a messianic school in Veroia and scoured the regions of Macedonia, Bulgaria and Salonika trying to influence the Sephardic communities to believe in Shabbatai Zvi as Messiah. When he, too, converted to Islam, many Veroia Jews also converted and for forty years the kehillah suffered ideological conflict.
The economic position of the region's Jews declined as the Ottoman Empire shrank in influence and power during the 18th and 19th centuries. Greek-Jewish relations deteriorated with the rise of Greek independence, because Jews had generally been loyal to the Ottomans and the Greeks accused the Jews of treachery. During the years of ensuing battles and skirmishes between Greeks and Turks many Jews fled from Greece to Italy, Turkey and Egypt. The Salonika-Veroia railroad of 1894 revived the economy. The Jews became free Greek citizens; the kehillah acquired an accepted legal status in 1913, after the Balkan Wars. Many Salonika Jews, displaced by Greeks from Turkish lands, resettled in Veroia.
The Nazis effectively ended this 2000 year-old community. Although 150 Jews fled to the hills in 1943, the Nazis deported 680 Jews to the camps. One hundred thirty of them returned to Veroia after World War II, but the community dwindled rapidly as some moved to Salonika while most sailed for Israel. The only Jews now resident in Veroia are David Cohen and his family." [February 2009]
|Last Updated on Sunday, 14 June 2009 22:16|