by Helene Kroll Gupp (Sarasota, FL)
It was September, after Rosh Hashanah, and we were on the island of Rhodes searching for a synagogue to spend the most sacred of all our holidays–Yom Kippur.
Along with another couple, we had flown to Athens, then to Mykonos, and now we were in hot and blindingly sunny Rhodes. Somehow, we had located an old synagogue, down a dusty street, practically hidden from view. Through a series of disjointed verbal expressions and elaborate hand illustrations, we got our message across to some local townspeople that we wanted to pray at the synagogue.
We were directed to the synagogue’s caretaker, an elderly woman with numbers on her arm. She instructed us to come back the next day for services at 9 a.m. Obediently, we did just that. But 9 a.m. Greek time means “whenever!”
The synagogue had a strong Moorish feel to its architecture and an even stronger odor of dust and mold. When my husband and our friend, Arnie, each put on a tallis belonging to the synagogue, they kept sniffing until they realized that the scent encompassing them was one of layers and layers of dust. Obviously, a tallis was used but once a year!
Slowly, a few people started drifting into the synagogue.
A young woman, employed by a cruise ship docked at the port, told me she was Jewish on her father’s side but that in her heart she felt Jewish and wanted to be part of this holiday.
A few tourists rudely rushed in, snapped some pictures of the bimah, and ran out as quickly as they came.
Then three Israeli soldiers on holiday strode in. Young and vibrant, they filled the synagogue with their exuberance.
Since it was an Orthodox service, the women sat on one side. And because the young men were also Orthodox, they would not consider including women in the minyan that was required to hold a proper service.
One of the soldiers offered to act as rabbi and hazzan, and patiently waited with us for a quorum of ten.
All in all, there were nine men present; not enough for a minyan. We all sat around in that stuffy synagogue, waiting to start the service.
Suddenly, a tourist, dressed uncomfortably in a suit and tie, rushed into the ancient building and breathlessly asked, “What time does the service start?”
“Now,” we all exclaimed.
He was our tenth man!
In that moment, thousands of miles away from our home and our temple of three thousand people, ten men and four women celebrated Yom Kippur. We had our minyan. And for another year the Day of Atonement was observed anew in Rhodes.
I will never forget that holiday in Greece. It taught me how important every Jew is.
Of all the High Holidays I have spent in my hometown synagogue, none will equal that experience of being part of the continuation of an ancient tradition.
And I will always remember that little synagogue and the miracle I witnessed there: the miracle of one minyan that preserved Yom Kippur for another year on the island of Rhodes.
Helene Kroll Gupp came to Sarasota in 1994 from her hometown of Rochester, New York where she enjoyed a thirty-two year career in public relations and development, including stints with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, State of Israel Bonds, Jewish Home and Infirmary, and lastly, Jewish Family Service. A life member of Hadassah, she is active in Women’s American ORT, Gulfside Chapter.