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A Greek Maccabee

Aharon Granevich-Granot, Salonika, Greece

Seventy years ago this week, Colonel Mordechai Frizis — the highest-ranking Jewish military officer in Europe, who held onto his tradition against all odds — died a hero’s death while protecting his Greek troops against the Italian onslaught at the beginning of World War II. Today, his grandson and namesake, Rabbi Mordechai Frizis, teaches Torah in Jerusalem and is uniting the remnants of a little-known Greek Jewish community who traces back to the Second Beis HaMikdash.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The several hundred of members of the Greek Jewish community in Salonika gather in the new, well-tended cemetery twice a year to recite the names of the deceased and pray for their souls. They refer to this custom as siyara, or “visit.” I was in Salonika at the most recent siyara, watching as the entire group converged on a particularly prominent tombstone.

“This is the grave of Colonel Frizis,” they explained reverently, as if it were self-evident to this visitor.

Colonel Mordechai Frizis, a Greek military hero whose memorial has been erected outside the National Military Museum in Athens, was more than an inspiration for patriotic Greeks. He was a dedicated Torah-observant Jew who kept mitzvos under the harshest military conditions, becoming the highest ranking Jewish officer in the Greek army and dying a hero’s death exactly seventy years ago, on December 5, 1940.

Today, his grandson, Athens-born Rabbi Mordechai Frizis, is carrying on the community consciousness of his esteemed grandfather — they are the few remaining Jews originating from the island village of Chalkida, a Romanic kehillah which was exiled from Jerusalem by the Romans after the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash. After making aliyah and studying in various yeshivos, Rabbi Frizis returned to Greece to serve as rabbi of Salonika, but out of concern for his children’s education, returned to Eretz Yisrael and is today one of the rabbanim of Kollel Dvir Aviya in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood.

 

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