Map of Cyprus
Cyprus is the third largest Mediterranean island
located south of Turkey and west of Syria and Lebanon.
The inhabitants of Cyprus were at first,
perhaps, Carians; in historical times, Phoenicians;
and later, Greeks.
Cyprus and Eretz Yisrael established trade relations as early as the third century B.C.E. and Jews began to settle the island.. The Jews had close
relationships with many of the other religious
groups on the island and were seen favorably
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 steadfast in their allegiance
to King Lathyrus.
Roman Rule - Ottoman Empire
The Jewish community prospered under Roman rule in Cyprus and there existed at least three synagogues in Golgoi, Lapethos and Constantia-Salamine. During
this period, first Paul and then Barnabus, a native of Cyprus, preached Christianity in Cyprus and attempted to the Jews. In 117 C.E., under the leadership of Artemion, the
Cypriot Jews participated in the great uprising against the Romans, which was eventually suppressed. As punishment, the Romans forbade Jews from setting foot on the island, however they returned soon after and Jewish residents continued to live there.
After a few years of calm, the Jewish communities began to grow and
thrive once again in Cyprus. In the seventh century, there was a large Jewish community in Famagusta and in the 12th century, Benjamin of Tudela found three Jewish sects on the island. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, more Jews lived on Cyprus than on any of the other Greek island, and though they suffered some discrimination, in the 14th century, King Peter I attracted Jewish traders from Egypt by promising them equal treatment.
In the 16th century, Cyprus became a part of the Ottoman Empire and the Jewish population dwindled.
Cyprus came under British administration in 1878 until it was granted independence in 1960.
British Detention Camp in Cyprus
During the late 19th and 20th century, multiple attempts were made by European Jews to settle in Cyprus due to the problematic nature of settling in Eretz Yisrael at the time. 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, although they did not immigrate to the country.
In 1897, fifteen Russian families under the leadership of Walter
Cohen founded a colony at Margo, with the help of the
Ahavat Zion of London and the Jewish Colonial Association (JCA). In August 1899,
Davis Trietsch, a delegate to the Third
Zionist Congress at Basel, attempted to get an endorsement
for Jewish colonization in Cyprus. Although
his proposal was refused by the council, Trietsch persisted, convincing
two dozen Romanian Jews to immigrate to the land. Beginning in 1900, under the sponsorship of the JCA, these settlers established farms at Margo, Kouklia and Cholmakchi. After World War I, Margo's second generation of Jews moved to Palestine and in 1928 the JCA closed down its operations in Cyprus.
Most Jewish communities during the early 1900s
were located in Nicosia. In 1901 the Jewish population of the island was 63
males and 56 females. In 1902, Theodore
Herzl introduced the idea of establishing Cyprus as the “Jewish
Homeland.” This idea was 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
the Jewish Colonization of Cyprus."
British Detention Camp in Cyprus
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
some 53,000 Holocaust survivors on the island. Once
the State of Israel was created, most of
the refugees made aliyah. In 1951, only 165 Jews remained on the island and in 1970, only 25 Jews were left.
Cyprus has had diplomatic relations with Israel since its establishment and currently enjoys many ties of commerce and tourism with Israel. Trade have been boosted in recent years after the discovery of vast hydrocarbon deposits in their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and security cooperation has likewise developed significantly in the aftermath of the souring of relations with Turkey.
Until 2005, there was no communal Jewish life except
for occasional religious services and Israeli Independence Day celebrations
held at the the Israeli Embassy in Nicosia. In 2005, Rabbi Arie Zeev
Raskin arrived and established the Chabad House in Larnaca which holds
daily minyans and Shabbat
and holiday services and provides kosher meals, holds Torah and
Judaism classes, runs a Sunday school and facilitates aid to Cypriots
seeking medical treatment in Israel.
In 2012, Cyprus and Israel signed two defense agreements
to set the basis for continued relations between the countries in
the areas of homeland security and counter-terrorism. The two pacts
dealt with exchange of classified information as well as defense cooperation
and protection, a major need of Cyprus as it has no national navy
or air force to act as a deterrent to countries such as Turkey. Signing
the two agreements sets the basis for the further development of relations
in the area of defence cooperation, Cyprus' Defence Minister Demetris
Approximately 350 Jewish families live in Cyprus
today, many of whom arrived in recent years for professional reasons.
Half of the Cypriot Jewish community is Israeli and the remainder
are mostly British or Russian.
C.J.C.C- Cyprus Jewish Community Center - Chabad Lubavitch of Cyprus
Diogenous 7 B
Larnaca, 6020, Cyprus
Mailing address: P.O. Box 42461, Larnaca, 6534 Cyprus
Website: C.J.C.C- Cyprus Jewish Community Center - Chabad Lubavitch of Cyprus
Embassy of Israel
4 Gripari S.T., P.O. Box 1049, Nicosia
Website: Embassy of Israel - Nicosia
Photos courtesy of: USHMM Photo Archives