Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania

ASF volunteer Carleen sitting in front of a bimah in the Etz Hayyim Synagogue

Until 1999, Etz Hayyim was a desecrated house of prayer, which remained the only Jewish monument in Crete after the destruction of the Jewish community in 1944. It stood as a monument to the National Socialist extermination of 2,300 years of Jewish life in Crete.
From 1996 to the year of its re-inauguration in 1999, the building has been carefully restored. The philosophy behind this work is summed up in the Hebrew ’Am Israel Hayy’ – ’The people of Israel live’.
The synagogue is run by an association that focuses on the cultural heritage of the destroyed Jewish communities of Crete. The association also organises a variety of cultural events and educational programmes. Here, for example, lectures, readings and musical events take place.
The Synagogue Association is networked with other denominational, political and historical working groups and is committed to fighting against anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of group-based hostility to humanity.

Activities for volunteers:

Visitor support, assistance at events, attendance service
Cooperation with a volunteer of the Austrian Memorial Service
In combination with Etz Hayyim: Support for the initiative “Young Citizens of the World Chania”, which builds a small documentation centre based on the consequences of the German occupation on Crete and an open library (


Etz Hayyim is a small institution of international renown. “Young Citizens of the world” is a small political-artistic initiative with a very familiar working environment. The volunteer needs a reliable, independent personality and should be able to cope with chaotic situations. Respect for the confessional partner is also a basic requirement. This project is appealing for someone with an interest in Jewish history, culture and religion.

Report by the first ASF volunteer Carleen who is working in Chania:

“My working day begins at ten o’clock with the preparation of the synagogue for visitors, e.g. preparation of items for sale. Afterwards, the team discusses the tasks for the day at breakfast together.
I am currently working with Theo, my Austrian co-volunteer from GEDENKDIENST, on a historic city rally for a youth exchange with students of the FU from Berlin, where young people from Chania and the students get to know each other.
During our working hours the synagogue is regularly visited by people of different nations, to whom we show the premises and also give short guided tours according to their interest. That is why I invested time in the first few days to study the history of the place and the Jewish community of Crete.

Every Friday evening the Sabbath is celebrated in the synagogue, where I help with the preparation and follow-up, as well as participating in prayer. Even if this is not part of my working hours, it has always been exciting and beautiful experiences for me so far, because one is received in a friendly way by the community and thus gets first impressions of Jewish culture. During the first weeks, I also had the opportunity to get an insight into the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Sukkot. To better follow the prayers Theo and I participate in Hebrew Reading lessons.

I also renew our website, write articles for our newsletter or help with all kinds of current projects. Apart from all that I also take part in community events like Passover. Due to that, I have learnt a lot about Jewish culture and I hope to further enrich this knowledge in the next months!”

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