A new smartphone app for Jewish heritage in Chania, Crete — including the Etz Hayyim synagogue — has been developed and will soon be available for IOS and Android platforms.
The app is the third in a series of travel apps for Jewish heritage in Greece, following apps for Thessaloniki and Ioannina, that have been developed by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University. The Chania app was developed by the Foundation’s New Media program with the support of the Embassies of Canada and Israel and in collaboration with the Etz Hayyim Synagogue.
It was officially presented on June 14th at the Etz Hayyim Synagogue. In attendance were members of the Greek Jewish Community, representatives of the Canadian and Israeli Embassies, and local personalities.
At the presentation, Julie Crôteau, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of Canada in Greece, Julie Crôteau, said, “This free tourist application will constitute an important tool, allowing users immediate access to the rich history of the Jewish community of Chania and Crete.”
The Etz Hayyim synagogue was originally a church, built in the 15th century by the Venetians and dedicated to St Catherine. Conversion of the building took place in the 17th century, re-using parts of the older building and adding a barrel-vaulted mikveh. Prominent rabbis are buried in stone sepulchres around the courtyard.
The synagogue remained in use until 1944, when the Nazis deported the community’s 263 Jews. The ship on which they were carried, which was presumably en route to a death camp, was torpedoed and sunk by a British submarine, killing all its passengers. The synagogue was desecrated shortly afterwards.
After fifty years of neglect, Etz Hayyim was selected in 1994 by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) as one of 100 endangered sites across the world, and as an initial project of WMF’s Jewish Heritage Program. The building’s conservation began in 1996 under the direction of Dr. Nikos Stavroulakis, and the synagogue was rededicated in 1999. Since then, the synagogue has been developed as a religious and cultural center, including a reference library and is also used for worship.