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Greek Mayor Wants His City to Remember Its Vibrant Jewish Past

A street in the Ladadika neighborhood, which used to be the Jewish quarter in Thessaloniki, Greece. This street in Thessaloniki used to be one of the Jewish quarters. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

At one time, Thessaloniki, Greece, used to be home to a large population of Jews and the current mayor, Yiannis Boutaris, wants to honor this history.

There is a deeper, more resonant dimension to Boutaris’ Jewish outreach, one that aligns with his origins as a Vlach, a people disappearing into Greece’s forcefully monolithic culture.

Boutaris wants Greeks to remember that their country was once not so monocultural, that there were other peoples that once thrived here. He has proposed a monument to the Young Turks, who emerged in Thessaloniki in the first decade of the 20th century and whose uprising eventually led to Turkey’s transformation in the 1920s into a secular state.

His focus in Washington is raising awareness about a Jewish cultural center he hopes to found. (The city has a small Jewish museum.) He has raised $20 million so far; he needs another $5 million or so for operating costs.

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