We stumbled upon a synagogue in the middle of Athens. Consistent with what we had read about most synagogues in Europe, it was surrounded by gates with armed security that required an I.D. in order to enter.
Yitzhak met us when we got inside, he is the cantor of the Congregation and is an Israeli that had been there for 2 weeks, we assume that the cantors are rotated from Israel to help keep the congregation afloat. Yitzhak struggled with English so he and Jesse communicated in Hebrew.
Yitzhak told us that there were 2 congregations, one Sephardic (Jews that had likely emigrated from Spain in the late 15th century) and was made up of only 10 people, the minimum required for a “Minyan” which is needed to perform certain religious customs.
The other is made up of Romaniote Jews, which is the oldest Jewish population in Europe dating back to the 4th Century BC, in which they lived first in the Greek Empire and then the Roman Empire in Europe. Greece has a small Jewish population of approximately 5,000 people.
86% of Greek Jews were killed in the Holocaust during the Axis’ occupation with the majority of the survivors after the war having emigrated to Israel and the United States. The worldwide Romaniote Jewish population is about 50,000 with the overwhelming majority living in Israel.