This is a photograph of Milena Molho’s bat mitzvah which took place in 1990 in the Monastirioton Synagogue in Salonika (Thessaloniki), Greece. The custom in Milena’s community was for all of the girls born in the same year to celebrate their bat mitzvah together. The photograph is of five bat mitzvah girls in white dresses standing in front of the ark. There are two large menorahs, one on each side of the ark. The girls are each holding a folder that is decorated with a Star of David and a menorah. They appear to be taking part in a ceremony either singing or reading texts. The folders possibly held the words and music for the girls to refer to. There is a microphone on either side of the girls and a few other people on the bimah (podium) including an older man wearing a kippah. The synagogue is decorated in a festive manner with lots of flower arrangements.
Milena Molho is the granddaughter of Renee Molho, who recorded her oral history with Centropa. Renee Saltiel Molho’s family originated in Spain. She doesn’t know much about her Spanish background, but the family are all Spanish citizens, which proved useful during the Holocaust. Renee, speaks Greek, French, English, and Ladino and understands Italian. She grew up in a Jewish neighbourhood in Salonika, living close to friends and family. The family observed Jewish holidays and Shabbat, and Renee remembers the special foods and preparations made for each holiday. During World War II, as soon as the Germans entered Salonika, they confiscated the family’s house and business. Later, although they felt protected due to their Spanish citizenship, the family moved into the Jewish ghetto. When deportations from the ghetto began, some of Renee’s relatives moved to Israel. Renee and her ill father moved to Athens, where they thought that they would be safer. After her father’s death, Renee went to Israel and stayed there until the end of the war. After the war, Renee learned that most of her family had survived, and she returned to Greece. She married Solon Molho, who owned a famous bookstore, and moved back to Salonika, where they raised three children including Milena’s father, Mair Molho. When Renee recorded her history in 2005, Milena was living in Athens.
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Jews of Salonika (Thessaloniki) – Salonika (Thessaloniki in Greek) is an important port city in Greece that had a thriving Jewish community for hundreds of years. The first Jews to arrive in Salonika in 140 BCE were from Alexandria, Egypt. The community was relatively small until a large number of Jews expelled from Spain, Portugal, and other countries settled there in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The city became a centre of Torah and Jewish culture, and Ladino, the language of those expelled from Spain, flourished. The local Jews engaged in commerce and banking, and many worked at the port. Until 1912, Jews were the largest ethnic group in Salonika. In 1917, a large fire spread through the city destroying two-thirds of the city and leaving 52,000 Jews poor and homeless. Much of the infrastructure of the Jewish community was also destroyed. This destruction coincided with a rise in Greek nationalism which marginalized the Jews of Salonika; nevertheless, they managed to rebuild the community. The Nazis captured the city in 1941, and in 1943 the Jews were forced to live in a ghetto and were then deported, mainly to Auschwitz, where around 98% of Salonika’s Jews perished. After the war, 2,000 Jews resettled in Salonika, while many others moved to Israel. The Florentin neighbourhood of Tel Aviv was founded by Jews from Salonika.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah – Bar mitzvah for boys or bat mitzvah for girls refers to the ages, 12 and 13 respectively, at which a Jew becomes obligated to fulfil the Jewish commandments and is allowed to participate fully in Jewish ritual and law. Since the Middle Ages, Jewish families have celebrated this milestone with a variety of different ceremonies and celebrations that have developed over time and place. In the past only boys celebrated their coming of age, but these days, in most communities, girls also celebrate. Bar and bat mitzvahs may consist of the celebrant being called up to the Torah for an aliyah, reading the weekly Torah portion or Haftarah, giving a sermon about the Torah reading, or leading the prayer service. Parties are probably the most common way of celebrating this milestone with family and friends. In recent years, participating in a social action project has also become quite common in some communities. In the past only boys celebrated their coming of age, though in recent years almost all communities celebrate also the girls' Bat Mitzvah.