Tag: Jews of Greece

Russia returns Jewish archives to Greece

The decision of the Russian government to return looted Jewish archives to Greece, as reported in Israel Hayom,  sets a hopeful precedent for the return of other Jewish archives to their rightful owners. However, 10,000 volumes from the Chabad book collection remain behind in Moscow, despite Chabad winning a 2010 case ordering its shipment to New York. (With thanks: Nancy, Lily)

The Monastir synagogue in Thessaloniki

Our history returns home!” the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KISE) said in a statement after the news was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint press briefing with Greek President Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Sochi on Wednesday.

The majority of the looted archives were taken by Nazis in July 1942 from Thessaloniki, which once had a thriving Jewish community. Nazi forces plundered archives, books and religious artifacts from 30 synagogues, libraries and communal institutions in the city. The Russian army seized possession of the archives when it conquered Berlin in May 1945 and transferred the materials to Moscow, where they were held until now.

“For Greek Jewry, these archives bring light to its historic course – sacred heirlooms of the light of life, and the darkness of the looting and the Holocaust,” said KISE. “Their restitution would mean justice and would transmit knowledge about a part of the Greek people that contributed to the progress of the country and no longer exists – that of the 60,000 Greek Jews who were deported to and exterminated in the Nazi death camps.”

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African politician discredited for his Jewish ancestry

Antisemitism is threatening to penetrate deep  into the heart of Africa as the Congo contemplates disqualifying presidential hopeful Moise Katumbi for having a Sephardi father from Rhodes. JTA report in Times of Israel (With thanks: Nancy)

Moise Katumbi, successful businessman and presidential challenger

JTA — The ancestry of the son of a Jewish refugee in the Democratic Republic of Congo has emerged as a flashpoint for a political crisis that is threatening the integrity of the massive African country.

The crisis came to a head last week when lawmakers loyal to President Felix Tshiseked introduced a bill that would restrict the presidency to those with two Congolese parents.

It’s a thinly veiled move against Moise Katumbi, one of Congo’s most popular politicians, whose father was a Greek Jew who fled the Holocaust in Europe and settled in Congo, where he married a local woman, Katumbi’s mother.

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Pfizer head is Sephardi Jew born in Thessaloniki

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has become a household name as  a manufacturer of the  COVID-19 vaccine. But how many know that its CEO is a Sephardi Jew, Albert Bourla? The Jewish Voice reports (with thanks: Ambrosine):

Albert Bourla

As the announcement
of a vaccine that is 90% effective in preventing the
novel coronavirus has dominated the headlines and
given hope to people in every corner of the globe, we
pause at this juncture to pay tribute to Albert
Bourla, the chairman and CEO of pharmaceutical giant

Founded in 1849 in
New York City by Charles Pfizer, the eponymously named
pharmaceutical company is one of the world’s largest
of its kind and it ranked 57 on the 2018 Fortune 500
list of the largest United States corporations by
total revenue. Pfizer develops and produces medicines
and vaccines for a wide range of medical disciplines,
including immunology, oncology, cardiology,
endocrinology, and neurology. Its products include the
blockbuster drug Lipitor (atorvastatin), used to lower
LDL blood cholesterol; Lyrica (pregabalin) for
neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia; Diflucan
(fluconazole), an oral antifungal medication;
Zithromax (azithromycin), an antibiotic; Viagra
(sildenafil) for erectile dysfunction; and Celebrex
(also Celebra, celecoxib), an anti-inflammatory drug.

Currently, Pfizer
is under the dynamic and innovative leadership of a
man who came from humble beginnings and who rose to
prominence in the medical field through his remarkable
diligence and his tireless desire to help people.

Born in October of
1961 in Thessaloniki, Greece, Albert Bourla was raised
in a Sephardic Jewish family. Bourla is a Doctor of
Veterinary Medicine and holds a Ph.D. in the
Biotechnology of Reproduction from the Veterinary
School of Aristotle University. He left Greece with
his wife when he was 34 and since then he has lived in
seven different cities, in four different countries.

In 2020, he was
ranked as America’s top CEO in the Pharmaceuticals
sector by Institutional Investor magazine. He is on
the executive committee of The Partnership for New
York City, a director on multiple boards – Pfizer,
Inc., The Pfizer Foundation, PhRMA, and Catalyst – and
a Trustee of the United States Council for
International Business. In addition, Bourla is a
member of the Business Roundtable and the Business

Bourla began his
career at Pfizer in 1993 in the Animal Health Division
as Technical Director of Greece. He held positions of
increasing responsibility within Animal Health across
Europe, before moving to Pfizer’s New York Global
Headquarters in 2001. From there, Bourla went on to
assume a succession of leadership roles within the
Animal Health Division, including US Group Marketing
Director (2001-2004), Vice President of Business
Development and New Products Marketing (2004-2006),
and Area President of Animal Health Europe, Africa and
the Middle East (2006-2009). In 2009, he assumed
additional responsibilities for the Asia and Pacific

From 2010-2013,
Bourla was President and General Manager of Pfizer’s
Established Products business from 2010-2013, leading
the development and implementation of strategies and
tactics related to Pfizer’s off-patent portfolio,
(including legacy brands and generics).

From January 2014
to January 2016, Bourla served as Group President of
Pfizer’s Global Vaccines, Oncology, and Consumer
Healthcare business, where he was instrumental in
building a strong and competitive position in oncology
and expanding the Company’s leadership in vaccines.

Previously, from
February 2016 to December 2017, Bourla served as Group
President of Pfizer Innovative Health, which comprised
the Consumer Healthcare, Inflammation &
Immunology, Internal Medicine, Oncology, Rare Disease
and Vaccines business groups. In addition, he created
the Patient and Health Impact Group, dedicated to
developing solutions for increasing patient access,
demonstrating the value of Pfizer’s medicines, and
ensuring broader business model innovation.

Bourla became
Pfizer’s chief operating officer (COO) on January 1,
2018, overseeing the company’s drug development,
manufacturing, sales, and strategy, as stated in a
Wikipedia profile. He restructured Pfizer and spun-off
the consumer health care business during his tenure as
COO. He was promoted to the chief executive officer
(CEO) role in October 2018, effective January 1, 2019,
succeeding Ian Read.

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Moderna’s chief medical officer Tal Zaks is Jewish too (Atlanta Jewish Times)

When Turkey was a haven for Jews

The antisemitic rhetoric of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan  makes it easy to forget that  there was a time in Jewish history when relations were very much better between Turks and Jews. Anti-Jewish crises in the Ottoman empire were often caused by Christians, not Muslims, under Ottoman rule, argues Jerusalem Online.

Jewish couple from Sarajevo, under Ottoman rule

When the Ottoman Turks liberated Bursa in 1324 from the oppressive yoke of the Byzantine Empire, they discovered a heavily oppressed Jewish community. The Jews of Bursa treated the Ottoman Turks as their saviors. Sultan Orhan gave the Jews who previously couldn’t build synagogues permission to build the Etz Ha-Hayyim (Tree of Life) Synagogue. Indeed, the liberation of the Jews of Bursa in 1324 from the tyranny of the Byzantines represented the beginning of the Turkish-Jewish friendship.

 Starting in the early 14th century, Jews fleeing oppression began to settle in the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Turkey became the home to Jews expelled from Hungary in 1376, from France in 1394, and from Sicily in the early 15th century. In the 1420’s, Jews living under Venetian controlled Salonika also migrated to the Ottoman Empire. In 1453, Sultan Mehmet II started to actively encourage Jews to settle in Ottoman lands. He issued a proclamation to all Jews stating, “Who among you of all my people that is with me, may his G-d he with him, let him ascend to Istanbul, the site of my imperial throne. Let him dwell in the best of the land.”(….)

 Mark Mazower, writing in Salonica: City of Ghosts, that the Jews of Salonikka did not want the Ottoman Turks to leave the city and were opposed to Greek rule. “Few Jews believed they would be better off in one of the Christian successor states than they were in an empire where their loyalty made them trusted and none can have thought that Salonica in particular—-the city they dominated—-would develop to their benefit if it became part of Greece or Bulgaria. The rise of Balkan nationalism thus increased the intensity of the Jews identification with the Ottoman state,” he wrote.

Even when blood libels did arise within the Ottoman Empire, such as the infamous Damascus Blood Libel of 1840, it was the local Christians rather than the Ottoman Turks who instigated them.

Following the Damascus Blood Libel, Sultan Abdelmecid issued an edict to forbid blood libels within the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Abdelmecid asserted, “For the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth.”

 Given this history, it is hard not to have nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire. It represented a time period in history when Jews and Muslims worked and thrived together for the greater good. It was a time of peace, tranquility, and serenity regarding Jewish-Turkish relations. Many modern Turks also have nostalgia for this period in history. Let’s hope that one day Turkish-Jewish relations can return to this.

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First Jewish mayor elected in Greece

Moses Elisaf, the head of the tiny Jewish community in the northern Greek city of Ioannina, was elected mayor in local elections on Sunday, reportedly becoming the country’s first-ever Jewish mayor. The Times of Israel reports: 

 Elisaf received 50.33 percent of the vote, narrowly beating incumbent mayor Thomas Bega, who got 49.67%, the Ekathimerini newspaper reported. According to the paper, this is first time that modern Greece has seen a Jew elected mayor.

Elisaf, a professor of pathology at the local university, has been the head of the local Jewish community for 17 years, and formerly also served as the head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. [….]

 Elisaf ran as an independent

Ioannina’s Jewish community numbers just some 50 people today, but was once the center of the unique 2,300 year-old Romaniote Jewish tradition.

The Romaniote Jews, neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic, emerged from the first Jewish communities of Europe. Records indicate the first Jewish presence in Greece dating back to 300 BCE.

These Jews became known as the Romaniotes, speaking their own language, Yevanic, or Judeo-Greek, a version of Greek infused with Hebrew and written with the Hebrew script.

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