History of the Jews in Cyprus

History of the Jews in Cyprus

Ancient invaders

Cyprus is the large island located in the east Mediterranean Sea. The first inhabitants of Cyprus were most probably, Carians; in historical times, Phoenicians; and later, Greeks. The first Jews settled during the last age of Greek occupancy. 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 Jannæus and Ptolemy Lathyrus, King of Cyprus, many Jews were killed. During the war the Jewish citizens remained committed in their allegiance to King Lathyrus.

Later invaders and Jewish rebellions

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 C.E. and they are reported by Dio Cassius to have massacred 240,000 Greeks. [ [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=948&letter=C JewishEncyclopedia.com - CYPRUS: ] ] 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. Nevertheless Jewish residents still lived on the island. 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. In 1571, it was annexed by Turkey, having been taken from Venice. In 1878, Cyprus came under British rule and became a colony.

Modern history

During the last twenty years of the nineteenth 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 were located in NicosiaIn 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.

The chief rabbi of Cyprus, Rabbi Arie Ze’ev Raskin, 31, originally arrived from Israel in Cyprus in 2003 as an emissary of Chabad-Lubavitch. He was sent on the island to help stimulate a Jewish revival. He is with his wife Shaindel and their four children the only observant Jews in Cyprus.

On September 13, 2005, the Jewish community inaugurated the island's first synagogue and mikveh (ritual bath) in the seaside city of Larnaca.

Some 300 Jewish families, about 1,800 Jews, live today in Cyprus, many of whom arrived in recent years for business. Half of them are Israelis, the rest are mostly British or Russians.


See also

*Ancient Rome
*Byzantine Empire
*History of Cyprus
*History of the Jews in Greece
*The Holocaust
*World War II
*Commonwealth of Nations

External links

* [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/cyprus.html The Jewish Virtual Library]
* [http://www.marycy.org/cyprus.html http://www.marycy.org/cyprus.html]
* [http://www.eretz.com/NEW/article/Cyprus%20jews.pdf http://www.eretz.com/NEW/article/Cyprus%20jews.pdf]
* [http://www.daat.ac.il/DAAT/bibliogr/shlomi/bibel3-2.htm Bibliography on the Jews of Cyprus (Chiefly in Hebrew and English)]

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